Thursday, May 25, 2017

Walking Alone

"POE XV - Traditions"
21" x 21" acrylic on paper
It's almost June and my last post was in January. I spent a lot of time this past winter thinking about the peoples of the desert southwest, reading books and getting prepared for a week long tour of the Chaco Canyon area of AZ and NM. The "ancient ones", the people called "anastasi" by many, became my focus, to the exclusion of all else. In April, back home from the tour, I began to sketch down some ways I could express what I learned, saw and felt.

Those people, those ancient ones, can only be studied by what they created and left behind. There is amazing stone work, buildings 4 and more stories tall, tucked into cliffs and on top of  mesas. There is pottery, several types, scraps of weavings, remains of murals. The people lived and built in relatively small numbers and then vanished. Archaeologists match the departure with a 50 year period of drought.

Today both the Hopi and the Navajo claim that arid and rocky land. The two tribes live in an uneasy balance. The Hopi, far fewer in number, literally live on reservations surrounded by the Navajo. The Navajo have embraced much of the culture of the Europeans. The Hopi, smaller in  number and much more insulative, secretive, have resisted, to a point.

"POE XVI - Traditions Witnessed"
21" x 21" acrylic on paper
Hopi culture has a legend that when lines crisscross the sky, times will end (at least for the Hopi) and so the "hardliners" (pun intended) live in Old Oraibi without electric power lines coming up from the valley nearby. I visited Old Oraibi and noticed the solar panels on the roofs of some of the dwellings along with the tv satellite dishes. There is no running water, no sewer, no electricity. And small luxuries creep in, regardless. The people of Old Oraibi exist in a far more fragile and marginal way than their claimed ancestors, the anastasi. They barely exist selling artwork and trinkets to the tourists. They still live in stone structures but lack the skills to rebuild them, so one by one those places crumble. They still practice ceremonies that hark back hundreds of years. And every year there are fewer and fewer of them.

In contrast, the Navajo move more easily within our European based culture. They understand how to negotiate with our government, how to change in exchange for those dollars the tourists bring. One of the hotels I stayed at during my tour was on a Navajo reservation in Chinle. The only difference between that and downtown Flagstaff was that there was no alcohol available. The traditional housing of the Navajo is hogans but most live in European style housing now.

Two paintings so far have come as a result of this specific trip, and there are more planned. I am trying to express what I learned and what I felt. The symbols are my own along with the Hopi and Navajo. Both tribes believe that there are 4 sacred mountains and assign colors also associated with corn (white, blue, yellow and red) to each mountain. This much at least they agree on. The Hopi's directions are NE, SE, NW and SW. Navajo are N, S, E, W. They disagree on up and down: Hopi believe they originate from the center of the earth and Navajo believe it is the sky. There are four sacred or traditional plants: corn, beans, squash and tobacco.

What I want to show in my paintings are my feelings that as strong as their beliefs are, I think their time is ending. This is part of the whole message of the "Peoples of the Earth" series which began in 2015. It isn't just the Hopi and the Navajo whose time is running. People are stretching and straining and tearing at the very fabric of life on which we depend. When I paint in this series (not everything I paint is part of this) I often feel very lonely. Will anyone understand or even care about what I'm saying? Is it important that they do? I walk alone here, because there are things I must put say and my primary means of expression is paint.







Thursday, January 5, 2017

Measuring Progress Over Time Part II

"Journey - Feather Moon II" 21"x21" poured watercolor
In April 2015, at the Intensive Studies Seminar at Taos, NM, Katherine Chang Liu challenged me to figure out how to combine my non-representational gestural marks with my love of pouring paint.  "I plan everything I do" Katherine told  me. "I don't have a lot of time to paint and I don't want to waste the time I have." That brief conversation changed my approach to painting. I could not get those words out of my head. She plans those beautiful collages and paintings?!  I look back to that exchange almost 2 years ago and realize now how much it influenced my thinking and changed my approach to painting.

"Journey - Feather Moon I" 21"x21" poured watercolor
For two years now I have explored shapes and symbols that have meaning to me and that help me express the thoughts and feelings about people and the earth that began to crystallize during my trips to Arizona and New Mexico in 2015. I've developed a symbolic language of my own, taken shapes and arranged them and poured a LOT of paint. 100 paintings, collages and weavings are on my inventory list for those two years and more than half of them are planned poured watercolor or acrylic.

While I've identified and learned to use many symbols, I had yet to figure out how to incorporate my gestural marks.  A couple weeks ago I took several sheets of paper and using a marker I just made large sweeping gestural marks. Each was distinct. So I looked at the mark I find most often in past paintings which was the very first paper I had marked and then I tried to figure out how I could incorporate that sweeping gesture in a painting plan. Once I changed the mark from a line to a shape I immediately saw how that could replace the twisted energy lines I'd used in earlier paintings. Now I had my own gestural energy shape!
"Feather Moon II" 21"x14"
poured watercolor

"Feather Moon II" was completed on Feb. 3, 2016. It is one of my personal favorite paintings of the past year. These two new paintings take the same symbols and put them into a square format which required a different composition. Here is the symbolism: feather is journey, moon is cycle (not necessarily a period of time), stars are wishes, the coins are the payment or the reward. The swirl is, as I said, energy. Now you can make up your own story, cast your feathers into the winds, make your wishes, pay your price and reap your reward. Happy New Year everyone.