Of Earth: Image and Clay at GreenTara Space, North Hero, VT

Of Earth: Image and Clay featuring the works of John Douglas and Joan Watson will be on view from July 19 to August 25 at GreenTARA Space in North Hero, VT, with an opening reception Friday July 26 from 5-8pm. Casting a look into the past, present, and future of our relationship with our environment Of Earth: Image and Clay ponders this moment in time, and the uncertainty of our industrialized world. To counter the anxieties of this reality, the exhibit calls upon us to inquire into the complexities of modernity and to promote a deeper understanding of our relationship to the environment.

Today the Earth’s resources are being used to increase the comfort, pleasure, and productivity of humankind. The global-warming reality conjured in John Douglas’ Auto-Warming Series cautions against the consequences of this relationship. His prints are a fascinating display of expanding skylines, oil platforms, and flooding waters. This is an environment that has been completely spent. The recurring imagery of row upon row of submerged cars refers specifically to the auto industry. Owning a vehicle has now become an extension of the self due to the necessity perpetuated by the demands of our consumer/commuter culture. This industry is most American because the automobile has always been our symbol of freedom. It is uncomfortable to imagine a reality without this liberty, but these images ask us to contemplate the cost of this privilege.

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001750 Auto-Warming by John Douglas

The method that Douglas uses to create his Auto-Warming prints reveals the extent of which technology is capable of fabricating reality. Just as a painter uses a brush to create surfaces and blend colors, Douglas maps out his futuristic reality with a mouse and keyboard, using Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) to form his composition. All aspects of the creative process are under complete control, thoroughly manipulated, and strikingly absent of human touch. The effect is so convincing it is hard to believe that Douglas’ computer generated prints are not actual photographs of real places. In addition to achieving a hyper realistic visual effect, working with CGI shows us the seemingly limitless possibilities of rendering through programming. The capability of constructing a proxy for the environment seems like an impossible outcome, but in the future depicted by Douglas’ imagination we see how close to that reality we really are.

As the Auto-Warming Series projects the viewer into a future of consequence, Douglas also presents photographs that reference a reassuring vision. A small rocky island in the middle of Lake Champlain defiantly faces the Auto-Warming prints. This island is a natural rock formation that Vermont’s indigenous Abenaki personify as Ojihozo, a being who was formed from the dust sprinkled over the Earth by their creator. In Ojihozo’s struggle to gather his newly created self, he grasped the land for support, pushing against the Earth with such force that up sprang the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. Using these mountains as support, Ojihozo lifted himself from the Earth, leaving behind a great indentation that filled with water, forming Bitawbagok, commonly known today as Lake Champlain. Ojihozo returned to the middle of the lake and sat down to become one with Earth again, turning to stone in his final resting place.

At the heart of the tale of Ojihozo is a reverence for nature interwoven with the human experience. To identify more closely with Earth, the Abenaki align themselves with its formation, as the two are one and the same. To the Abenaki, Ojihozo is a valuable island because it personifies their creation story and serves as a reminder that humankind is part of Earth, and only possible because of Earth. The Abenaki perspective contrasts with the more prevailing view that nature exists as a resource, is coveted as a raw material, and valued only for its transformation into a usable substance. The only way to counter the harsh inevitability of an Auto-Warming future is to believe in the value of the Earth beyond the standards of industry and economic gain.

 

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Ojihozo by John Douglas

Adding strength to this standpoint are Joan Watson’s Rock Formations. Occupying the same space as the viewer, the rock sculptures offer a grounding presence in their familiar form. They assume the role of companions, each with their individual character, to cultivate a sense of connection. In the setting of the gallery, Watson’s sculptures demonstrate the potential for a relationship based on the mutual benefit of simply existing together. The versatility of clay allows it to be transformed into almost anything, yet Watson has chosen rocks as her subject; a simple element elevated as art to be revered and appreciated.

Clay is one of the oldest materials of creation, dating back roughly 20,000 years. It is one of the earliest mediums used to create functional objects, which in turn provided surfaces for creative expression and communication. Sculpting with clay is one of the earliest steps in the evolution of technology, however at some point the sense of partnership between the creator and the medium was lost. Responding to the human hand, clay cultivates an intimate relationship; volume must be built from the core, working from the inside out. The artist’s intuitive response is achieved by feeling the material and understanding its properties, guiding the clay to its final form.

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Rock Formations by Joan Watson & Auto-Warming by John Douglas

The hierarchy of sculptural art versus functional art affirms the message that value does not have to be determined by usefulness. There is a dichotomy of functional art versus sculptural art. As a tool, functional art serves a greater purpose for its owner, however the standards of art dictate that once something is able to be used, it’s meaning is diminished at the sake of the service it provides. A sculpture, appreciated solely as art, increases its value both conceptually and monetarily. This notion of hierarchy is important, yet hardly considered when it comes to Earth. If we can elevate the value of the environment above that of a commodity it will regain the level of importance it deserves. After all, it is the original masterpiece and is therefor priceless.

This change in perspective is essential to preserve the Earth’s ability to sustain human existence. Douglas’ Auto-Warming Series anticipates a future that is over industrialized, resulting from the will to command and maintain complete control of the environment for national interests and personal economic gain. But the sense of urgency expressed in his prints is not without hope when juxtaposed with the Ojihozo Series and Watson’s Rock Formations. The possibility of a relationship based on reverence and respect is the first step towards changing course. Human kind exists in alliance with the Earth, not despite it, and acknowledging this relationship is where the shift towards a healthier planet begins. Of Earth: Image and Clay inspires a conscientious look at our values, a reassessment of our material instincts, and a re-acknowledgment of our sense of creation.

 

Identities: Cultural Creations at GreenTARA Space, North Hero, VT

Identities: Cultural Creations featuring artwork by Misoo and Wendy Copp is on display at GreenTARA Space until July 14th, 2019. In the midst of a contemporary culture that habitually overlooks the female perspective, Misoo and Copp have created artwork that illuminates their personal identity in a way that insists on respect and serves to empower those who encounter it. By creating imaginary realities for the viewer to experience, Misoo and Copp project a deeper meaning that can only be understood by abandoning the traditional frame of reference.

In the reality occupied by Misoo’s paintings she reigns supreme. Pulling from her experiences as a minority, and the sense of alienation felt as an Asian woman in Vermont, she created The Giant Asian Girls and The Giantess Series. To surpass her imposed cultural identity she amplifies her self and her message. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse she uses art to regain her power, heal, and reframe the world that women, minorities, and abuse survivors occupy. She manifests the sentiment best stated by Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

Stepping in front of a painting by Misoo, the viewer is greeted by a grand woman with a chorus of collaged imagery depicting common cartoons and the triumphs of man as found in history books. Despite the sheer volume of collaged imagery within each painting, those moments are strikingly insignificant compared to the presence of each woman who sits upon them. Each subject’s silent stare speaks louder than the many voices surrounding her. In fact it is only within the figure that a calm moment can be found, and in this calmness is depth, and strength, and the power Misoo wishes to share. Her women are regal and composed. Almost all are making eye contact in that way that only a painting can; with a gaze that is always direct. The eyes silently say “I am here.”

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The Giant Asian Girl Self Portrait 2 by Misoo

The Giant Asian Girls Series addresses violence against women and the racial stereotypes experienced by Asian women in Western society. In defiance of the Western fetishization of Asian women, the subjects in these portraits are dressed in everyday clothes, and assume relaxed positions that accentuate their comfort, and not the sexuality of their body. The Giantess Series includes similarly empowered women who are real life abuse survivors. The artist’s intent is to restore the sense of self worth that is lost when abused, and bring to life the presence of her cultural and feminine identity in epic proportions.

Misoo’s paintings draw the viewer in by demanding attention with their massive presence, amplified in contrast to the intricacy of the collaged elements. A reoccurring theme within each collage is the relationship of man to the land; here he is conquering a frontier, felling a tree, waging a war. There is his house of worship, defying gravity in the name of religion. This onslaught of information brings the viewer to an extreme point of contemplation, which is gently transformed into meditation once Copp’s sculptures enter the narrative.

Copp’s pieces are a remembrance of our relationship to the earth, and a renewal of our perspective of how we are linked to nature. Where Misoo orients through contrast, Copp does so through connection. Her sculptural assemblages of natural materials take on familiar forms: animal masks with character, dresses and shoes reminiscent of high fashion. The thought of entering a sculpture and wearing it brings about the possibility of fully merging with nature to form an identity that honors the earth and the feminine spirit that Copp represents in her compositions.

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The Huntess by Wendy Copp

 

At certain points in her life Copp has set out into the wilds of Vermont with a pack and a horse. On these lengthy solo journeys she immersed herself in nature. These experiences allowed her to access her instincts, and left a lasting impression that is evident in the visceral quality of her sculptures, and the method in which she approaches her art practice. Her creative process starts in nature with the choice of barks, leaves, and grasses she collects, and mirrors the evolution of nature by honoring the inevitability of change, decomposition, and renewal. Her sculptures are not static when presented in the gallery, but are seen in a phase of their evolution, bound to grow again into new forms.

Many of her sculptures are made of the invasive Phragmites grass, which grows in great thickets all across Vermont and the US. Phragmites’ imposing height decreases wetland biodiversity by blocking the sun from other plants, and creates an unfavorable habitat for fauna by growing in dense clusters. In the areas that Phragmites has taken over, it is impossible for native plant and animal ecology to survive and flourish. By using this material Copp acknowledges invasive dominance as an inherent characteristic of nature, but also uses it as a metaphor for aggressive human encroachment, which has become overbearing and devastating for the earth.

It is in this way that Copp shares her perspective that being marginalized and encroached upon can be intrinsic to being a woman. While traveling alone in the woods of Vermont she found that a bear rummaging nearby would illicit fear, but it was only when unknown persons were in proximity that she felt a sense of potential danger. In these moments she was most aware that she was vulnerable as a woman alone. In defiance of that sensation she cultivated the courage to continue to experience the world, despite that underlying sense of vulnerability. With this perspective her dresses and shoes can be observed as sculptural armor, adorned to protect and embolden.

Identities: Cultural Creations celebrates the defiance of fear and vulnerability while promoting inner strength, the feminine spirit, and the courage to persevere as a minority. Both artists have triumphed in their presentation of artwork that does not limit itself to a display of what they can create, but acts as a convincing demonstration of who they can be. By stepping outside the constructs perpetuated by history, society, and common perspectives, they offer the pleasure of art that speaks to the core, offering a hope of connection and understanding. As Jericho Brown stated “hope is always accompanied by the imagination, the will to see what our physical environment seems to deem impossible. Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.” And so have Misoo and Wendy Copp wielded such hope.

The Ruined Piece

When I first started trying to be an artist there were two paths in front of me. I embarked on one at the sake of the other. Born of a fiercely competitive streak and awareness of being ranked while in school, I chose a path that I hoped would arrive at being the best. Of course there is no such thing as being the best, so this path is a catch-22 of infinitum. The other path, the path less traveled because it is more difficult to find, a path I wish I spent more time on, accesses the extraordinary thing that only the one unique individual self has to give. This path leads to the very core of all great art, and is the whole point of creating to begin with.

For countless reasons, I was too distracted to access the path of deeper self knowledge while in school. I was also probably fearful of looking that far inward. Having graduated with an MFA in painting in 2012 – the year the world was supposed to end anyway – I had even less of an idea about what making art meant to me than when I started. Sure, I could knock out a mean painting when I really applied myself, but I lacked a real understanding of what I was doing because I was using success and praise to gauge my progress, which is the most classic case of missing the point.

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Fast forward to a day in June, 2019. Objective: paint from my heart, do it with feeling. Break the glass ceiling, punch through the fourth wall – give it a real go! In my haste to create, with pure wild abandon, I make a bunch of technically poor choices which are instantly humbling. I did a terrible job stretching my canvas, so I decided to rework a painting that I had been putzing with for months, and fulfilled every painter’s nightmare by applying acrylic over oil paint, completely ruining the entire painting.

Of course I felt really dumb when these things happened, and kind of like I was totally sucking as an artist. But I realized that in my excited, albeit foolhardy state, I was in fact chasing down something more important than the rigid formula of steps and chess moves involved in making a ‘good’ painting. This was the opposite of sucking as an artist. The preoccupation with technicalities, and adhering so strictly to doing things correctly are the very hurdles for the mind to get where it needs to go. In my zeal to create I wasn’t following the rules so I wasn’t curbing my imagination, and it was awesome.

However I did ruin a painting. And this felt pretty bad because I felt really stupid for making the mistake, and I squandered something that had a lot of potential. But as in art, so is in life: never underestimate the power of letting go. Especially when you are holding on to something just because you are overly sentimental about it. Sentimentality is an anchor that tethers you to the stagnant soggy bottom of non-creation. And that statement pretty much sums up the painting I accidentally destroyed.

The Ruined Piece was an attempt at abstraction, comprised of a series of noncommittal cute little whimsical marks that didn’t really relate to one another. When I looked closely at it I loved all the parts. But when I stepped back and beheld it as a painting it had no sense of unity, no substance, no meat on its bones – just fluffy movements recorded by absent-minded brushstrokes. It also revealed the bane of my artistic existence: the inability to paint over passages within a painting just because I liked them. Why would I pledge such allegiance to these insignificant passages, which existed like little dams for the creative flow? Because I was being sentimental, inflating the value of something meaningless, and holding my painting back from its own greatness.

The Ruined Piece has showed me that on occasion, the mere fact that something existed once, only to be seen by me, is worth while enough if it helps me progress towards something more meaningful and closer to what I envision creatively. It is inevitable that it will inform a permanent painting someday. Trusting this idea is empowering, letting go is necessary, and losing this hang up is pivotal. Getting rid of something that holds you back is worth every ounce of the precious space created by its absence. Sometimes the experience and the memory of the painting will be more worthwhile than the actual painting – you just have to trust that outcome.

Touché

This painting and I have been together now for 3 years. I think that after all this time we are finally done. It was meant to be a springtime painting in 2013, a primavera of renewal. Things started off pretty well, but I soon realized that I had exhausted the resource of its inspiration. So this painting sat for a while, would reappear, remain resistant, get turned to the wall. Reappear, change ever so slightly, but basically remain the same. Unwavering.

 

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Starting a painting is like meeting someone for the first time. A painting can light a spark in you. The idea of whats beginning can make you want to pour your heart out without a thought as to how it all ends up. These paintings escalate quickly, fueled by the driving force of the feeling of experiencing the engine of it all. The inexplicable desire to indulge in the unraveling layers of curiosity brings on unimaginable transformations.

In theory these kinds of paintings would just hurtle forth and shatter all preconceived notions and expectations, materializing with ease each invigorating time after time.

But it’s far more inevitable to get lost. Where do you go when the blaze burns out? Once you loose your initial inhibition the process feels more like dredging the bottom to salvage the memory of the idea of how things could be. No matter how much effort is put forth, things are just not working out. No amount of deliberating or calculating can ever really change the course of nature; the more you want it to work out, the less likely it will.

Coming to this conclusion paralyses any forward motion.

The easy way out is to jump ship, because efforts met with such resistance can drain the ever loving life out of you. It is easy to get stuck here. Paintings that end up here are hard to budge. Because the pursuit of what can only happen naturally is a baffling undertaking.

For this painting I had let the impression of a face form first. Just the slip of gravity on a string. I was so enthralled by this early accomplishment that everything else after tip toed around these features. I became preoccupied with preserving what was already there instead of letting it evolve.

By accessorizing my proud moment I created a cacophony details, thinking that if I added just the right one they would all somehow make sense in the end. But every detail wanted its own attention and eventually all I could see were the parts. I had lost the sense of their unity as a whole and forgotten the face that had come forth then disappeared under layers years ago.

For some reason this one drew me back in, so instead of annexing this painting to the graveyard of unfinished ideas, I reacquainted myself with it. I was sure that there was still something waiting to be seen. Once I started again I was astonished at how quickly and simply all the parts fell into place, reaching the conclusion I had brooded about for so long in a matter of moments. I think this happened because I had truly given up on the painting; it wasn’t precious to me anymore. I didn’t really care if it worked out or not.

Feeling like there were no consequences to whatever I decided to do next was the only way to regain my footing. Getting inspiration back after loosing it is almost more of a triumph than when the momentum lasts all the way to the end. There is more of a story in the grappling, more soul in the revival.

These kinds of paintings are a real thorn in the side, but once they are done I love them even more because they contain a tremendous amount of myself.

Once we embrace our flaws, then we are perfect.

It can seem counterintuitive not to do something just because you do it well. When I stood in front of the paintings in my undergraduate thesis exhibition I realized that there is purpose beyond the slick hyper realism rendering of reality. Because I was so eager to deliver a specific message, and achieve a predetermined measure of perfection, I had masked most of myself in the artwork by focusing narrowly on what it was supposed to mean, and supposed to look like.

 

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Kettle, Oil on Canvas, 2008

 

As contemporary humans, and artists, we are susceptible to conditioning. Being so preoccupied with the desired outcome – our concrete definition of success – only serves to distract from the pleasures of expression. We are smart, but are we too smart? This indication of our advancement as species is the very thing that can take ahold of our creativity and marginalize its relevance. Without making room for the things that don’t pertain to the standards we have set, we miss the potential to unleash the best part of ourselves.

“At each stage I reach a balance, a conclusion. At the next sitting, if I find that there is a weakness in the whole, I make my way back into the picture by means of the weakness – I reenter though the breach – and I reconceive the whole. Thus everything becomes fluid again.” – Henri Matisse

Although the modern equation in which we live suggests otherwise, truly embracing the essence of who we are does not rely on our ability to accomplish but in embracing the resulting flaws of our efforts. Because our true nature is not to fulfill a preconceived notion of how things should be; our flaws are what make us absolutely unarguably different from every other single person.

Our flaws give us identity.

 

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Imaginary Nude, Oil on Canvas, 2014

The First Post…

I can’t say that I know what I’m doing, which has always been the most exciting way to get things done. At least in my experience of artwork. I wouldn’t say that I am a technically advanced painter, but I can sure catch a certain momentum and ride it like the wind. Sometimes things turn out in my favor, the ending arrives with a flourish or a slow sifting out of all the ideas that have spontaneously cropped up. Sometimes I let go at just the right moment.

Most of the time I go too far and the magic that I harnessed on paper, canvas, in my memory, gets lost, burnt up in the process, destroyed by an emotional reaction. A handful of the art on here is merely a glimpse of pieces that eventually met their demise at the hand of their creator. I am still learning when to jump off  on the right beat, and figuring out how to pay better attention to when an idea has arrived, danced the tango, and then departed, leaving a somewhat mystical visual trace. For me creating art is more about being in touch with this inexplicable force and honoring the fact that it exists, and less to do with convention or expertise. I think that this very fact is why I can call myself an artist and not just feel like it’s pretend.

 

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Rapunzel, 2006

 

This piece is a multi media collage I titled Rapunzel because it is literally the woman in the tower letting her hair be climbed by a man. There is a lot of say about this as a metaphor for me as a young woman having let a man climb her hair back in 2006…but that isn’t as important as the other kind of woman this is: the raptured one, looking to the sky with a dagger of geese flying into a sunset piercing her heart.