A painter exploring installation.

Welcome to the jungle.

My first solo experiment in installation.

This is the second week of my attendance at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA)’s MFA in Visual Arts program. I am a painter and am now exploring installation. This means I have a lot of pre-existing visual vocabulary, but it previously existed on a single plane in rectangles or squares. I have taken my first baby step into using space as we experience it in the third dimension, using many of the same elements and imagery.

My first inclination was to draw directly on the wall, using faint, pink, pastel chalk to create some division. I began by using an old drawing of an oil refinery as reference, which later I added as a collage element affixed to the wall. An interesting thing happened when I drew the oil refinery in pink chalk, it started to look more like a fairy castle rather than a filthy refinery. This idea was really interesting. I wondered, how could I make this filthy thing look even more magical and innocent? -I employed some imperfectly shaped circles cut from color-aid paper. (I swear, that color-aid paper has come in handy so many times… just never in the original way it was intended.) I chose varying shades of pink and purple, referencing a cartoon princess motif. As observed by my mentor, this was as if I were trying to detoxify the refinery and/or effeminate it.

I included other drawings that were a bit autobiographical, affixed to the wall, as collage elements as well, including two drawings and a photo of myself holding my daughter when she was just about 2 months old while I was painting. Other pictures of the kids from this year and a couple other old drawings added to the wall below waist level so that they sagged onto the floor were also included. I painted a couple plastic skulls pink and placed them in the corner. I meant to write V2R2 on the forehead of one as a signature or maybe as if it were my skull.

I have been consumed by the fleeting nature of life and love and all the moments that make up our lives. Although it’s not completely obvious, I wanted to bring some sense of that to the piece. Like most people, especially parents, we take all these photos of our kids and try to keep these archives of memories and, for what? There is no denying that all these moments are special, but once the immediately involved parties are deceased, these photos seldom serve any other purpose and the memories of those moments are gone. The presence of the oil refinery maintains a meaning for me that has been present since the first time I started photographing and drawing the refineries; the potential demise of our species (as well as many other species). I thought the blackberry vines would make an additional comment on the progression of time and eventual return to nature that we resist. We constantly battle against nature invading our homes, gardens, streets, bridges, but once we vacate a space, nature immediately sets in to take back what was once its territory. Eventually all living things return to the dust from whence they came. The effect of these narrative elements combined have the mood of  a suspenseful fairy tale. We know that the fairy tale will end. Fairy tales usually involve the unknown and some sinister thread running through the story.

I heard a quote from one of my colleagues; all artists are really concerned with two things: sex and death. Well, isn’t everybody?

My first love was composition, narrative is secondary. I noted that when I began this wall installation, I began with a drawing, the same way I would begin a painting and the same way I first began to explore art making when I was able to pick up a drawing tool. This experiment challenged me to think about perception of the viewer, but I still fall back on my formalist muscle memory and default to composition.

The circles of color were very fun to play with. I put them on the wall, on top of the chalk drawing, irreverently on top of drawings, behind the transparent vellum of the small oil refinery drawing and on the floor. I imagined a room full of dots, larger dots denoting nearness and smaller dots, distance. Is this universal? Would the average viewer see big dots and small dots without a sense of nearness and distance?

My next impulse is to employ more of these transparent sheets or rolls combined with “circles” to heighten the invitation to look and explore.

 

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