Water, Sacred Water at GreenTARA Space Gallery in North Hero, Vermont, offers a glimpse into a decade-long project explored by artist Janet Fredericks. This body of work developed in collaboration with fellow artist Dona Seegers, poet Guy Jean, as well as Fredericks’ longtime muse, water. Fredericks composes a visual cascade of water’s mystical qualities, expressing it as an intangible essence rather than a substance. She achieves this visual effect by integrating with her subject, and becoming part of the river’s world by jumping in to embark on the act of creation underwater. Through this process Fredericks formed an intimate relationship with water, a connection which she passes on through her artwork. Her reverence towards water offers encouragement to live in the moment, just as she did while creating these pieces, in order to access a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
The idea to submerge her paper and draw underwater came to Fredericks spontaneously. On a warm sunny day she brought a large piece of paper down to the New Haven River. On a whim she let her paper sink in the water and found that the most amazing patterns came into focus. The water revealed a new language that Fredericks was instantly compelled to record. She stood in the river for an hour drawing the flow and ripples that passed over her sunken paper. Through this experience she realized that the water heightened her intuition and sharpened her senses. She felt more alive standing in the rushing water. Fredericks likens this occurrence to a divine intervention. It forever changed her perspective as an artist, deepened her personal connection to the natural world, and helped her understand that water is the physical manifestation of our lifecycle.
Water’s currents are a reaction to the land it passes over, existing only as a flickering moment in time. Fredericks’ drawings express this manifestation through rhythm and movement. In Golden River Scroll the visual thrust of the current pulls the viewer in, suspended over passages of calm. In Folded Bend in The River light streams over a backdrop of pebbles dancing in the water. Fredericks abandoned formal drawing techniques in order to illustrate the spirit of the moment. Often an artist maintains a certain command of her materials, but to convey the true language of the river, Fredericks realized she must relinquish control. The river is also an artist in these works, at times unexpectedly floating Fredericks’ paper downstream, or asserting its will to wash away the marks of her hand; after all it is in water’s nature to deconstruct. But water also creates, leaving pools and trickles on Frederick’s paper which buckles and curls off the gallery wall.
Working in tandem with the river eventually gave way to another form of collaboration within the ebb and flow of fellow humans. In 2000 Fredericks engaged in a 2-year collaboration with Maine artist Dona Seegers. The artists would send each other water drawings through the mail. First, one artist would submerge a large sheet of watercolor paper into a stream, lake, or the ocean, and record the language unique to that particular body of water. Then, she would let the piece dry, roll it up, and mail it to the other artist. Each artist would repeat this process in a new body of water, responding to the marks of past experiences while adding elements from her current moment.
Fredericks and Seegers would eventually end up with over 24 drawings produced in the waters of Vermont and Maine. Lexicon was created in this way, as a correspondence between three artists; Fredericks, Seeger, and the water. Drawn with sediment from the earth and pigment wash, Lexicon has the visual quality of an ethereal cave painting. The symbols and gestures on the paper speak to a deeper meaning embedded within the artwork. Layers of washes create a depth of space on which forms float freely, skimming the surface, swimming underneath, sometimes barely visible and just out of reach. The abstract quality of this piece serves as an entry point, allowing the viewer to jump into the waters of their own mind to find its meaning through personal interpretation.
Our quest to understand the world around us drives the creative process, and what can’t be expressed visually can be illuminated verbally. Water, Sacred Water features poetry by Canadian poet Guy Jean, developed in collaboration with Fredericks in a project and book entitled Et l’eau répondit… [And Water Answered… ]. Three of Jean’s poems and an excerpt from their book are hung alongside Fredericks’ paintings. The poems are presented in their original French verse alongside the author’s English translation. Jean’s poetry celebrates the art of language, offering a vehicle to further transport the viewer into the moment, such as in J’inventerais des mots [I shall fashion words] excerpted from Et l’eau répondit…[And Water Answered… ]:
… so then
I’ll call your speech flowing on rocks and pebbles:
The movements of your lips
an unknown language
teach my lips to shape sounds I’ve never said.
Working together Fredericks and Jean illuminate the flowing consciousness that they each experience when contemplating the sounds and patterns of water. This is evident in Fredericks’ own verse as well: a journey between worlds / I am neither present nor absent / where mysteries of the soul / germinate.
Water has the ability to communicate, and when given the chance provides direction and meaning. It speaks to us in the infinite ways it reflects and responds to its surroundings, whether urban neighborhoods or mountain streams. We know water is our primary source, and have always needed it in order to survive, replenish our inner reserves, and to cleanse ourselves. Fredericks’ artwork asks us to look beyond the ways water can serve us, and to consider the ways in which we can serve water. We may begin this process just as Fredericks did; by jumping in, watching, listening, and trying to hear what water has to say. Through Fredericks artwork we may access a conscious shift towards a deeper understanding of our inseparable nature by recognizing and honoring water’s energetic power, its spiritual value, and its life force.