Bio: Word and Image
Wanting to see as much as possible, I found, long ago, I can be neither for, nor against, any method or material. Interested in the gap between formalism, particularly minimalism, which I love, and a highly descriptive, common visual vernacular, I move between the two and it often feels like looking at the stars, and down at your feet. That back and forth has not changed and looking back, it has in fact been a quest, a journey of commitment looking for my heart’s desire.
What does the heart desire?
As a southerner born in 1944, I grew up in a word culture and somewhere along the line realized words had suffered a loss. You couldn’t trust um. What was said in church didn’t translate into everyday life. Clashes between black and white, tradition and the new, rules and freedom, all called into question the stories and games used in preparing us to survive and go forth.
As an adolescent I made secret drawings and visual language seemed a way back into the word but art was really a stranger to me. People in my town didn’t own pictures and art was not a subject in school until my graduating year. I took a leap and majored in art education in college, did some teaching, traveling and looking, then got an MFA from American University in 1978. Afterwards, I made detailed representational paintings and drawings. This was my practice for a few years until a new quest emerged. I wanted to know the language of abstraction. My southern culture had believed in usefulness. Representational painting could be useful and carried echos of family photographs which opened up old times and other worlds. Modernist abstraction used concepts and a vocabulary I was unfamiliar with. Employing various strategies, I tried to wind my way forward and failed. Taking a cue from Philip Guston, who could draw without looking, and using traditional Japanese apprentice techniques I had read about, I took to drawing with brush and ink. Apprentices were told to sit and pull a single mark on paper until the move was mastered--it often took a year or more. This discipline became my practice, during which time I also switched hands. In time, armed with my new found belief in risk, repetition, and the power and transparency of a good move, I wanted to make pictures once more and I turned to materials.
Stuff beckons. Traditional art materials are carefully crafted and very beautiful. I love good paint and fabric. Loaded pigments and the right tool. But an artist’s job is to get to the heart of the matter and whole hearts include the unworthy. This much has been clear from the beginning and my job requires not only conventional materials and techniques but insignificant leftovers and an acknowledgement of skills brought to the table before my art education. I could sew, cook, draw, work wood and build things. I swam competitively and played softball for years. I knew what killing was (fishing, and my mother’s chickens) and in time, learned the value of patience and the tender touch. Now after a practice of nearly forty years I have all the moves I need and choose my approach and vocabulary according to the project. My long rummage through the trunk of visual history, along with extended play with materials, has offered up a steady way to counter sly corruption in our stories and games.