How We Know the World Is Round

My father had a friend who was heard to say that the way he knew the world is round was that every so-and-so who ever left Kentucky came back. And I’m about to prove that theory by returning to Louisville next month for an exhibition at Moremen Gallery.

I’ve written before about my fascination with low watery places. Bogs, bottomlands, and marshes are magical. I come by that fascination honestly through my Strode ancestors, Strode being a name that signifies a low watery place. So when I’ve returned to Kentucky in the past, I’ve explored the mysteries of bottomlands. This one in Shelby County, Kentucky, with its rusting cattle gate, shows evidence of recent historical use. The reflections, the colors of the earth along the creek margins, the overhang of the trees, each is also a record of seasonal changes.

Shelby County Bottomland, Oil on Linen, 22 x 36 Inches

Shelby County Bottomland, Oil on Linen, 22 x 36 Inches

Bottomlands, often flooded in the Spring, are naturally fertile grounds. The bottomland on my grandfather’s tobacco farm in Mason County, Kentucky, on the Ohio River, was such a place. This painting is of Strode’s Run, the small creek that flows through the farm on its way to the Licking River and then the muddy Ohio.

Bottomland, Oil on Linen, 16 x 20 Inches

Bottomland, Oil on Linen, 16 x 20 Inches

Pulling back for a longer view of the family farm, I remember my mother's nostalgia for the Ohio River. After she married and moved to Lexington, she continued to describe herself affectionately as a” river rat.” And so I am honored to have been invited to exhibit my work as part of AFLOAT: An Ohio River Way of Life.  a city-wide celebration of life along the Ohio. The exhibition, Landscapes, Vessels and Jars, takes place from June 7 - July 6, at Moremen Gallery in Louisville.

Farm, Oil on Linen, 20 x 48 Inches

Farm, Oil on Linen, 20 x 48 Inches

Nature's Low Watery Places

The month of May finds me as much in the garden as in the studio, and one of the absolute pleasures of being in two places at once has been returning to work on a painting that I made in 1993. It's sparked a conversation entirely in my head, about low watery places and my need to paint them. Even the names - bottomland and bog - are mysterious. They belong to Nature as personified in the ancient Greek concept of Physis. Here is how Philostratus the Younger, a Greek philosopher and teacher who lived in the 3rd century A.D., described a painting he'd seen. He wrote "No doubt you see the grove around the spring, the work of wise Nature (Physis), I believe; for Nature is sufficient for all she desires, and has no need of art; indeed it is she who is the origin of arts themselves."

For Nature is sufficient for all she desires, and has no need of art . . . . I stand before a canvas humbled by this thought, but ready to give form to what I've seen. Because it's a fact that a painting transmits information, and I paint to share my experience with you. A landscape painting about our lived experience, brings order to the raw materials of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. I sense, therefore I paint.

The painting I've been working on with such pleasure is Bog Portrait. It was inspired by my frequent hikes in Washington County back when I was just getting to know Maine. Though the face of the painting was finished long ago, I've now extended the image around the edges for a more complete immersion in the bog. My memories of the black bog water, the accumulations of iron in the water. and the intense greens of foliage at the margins, found their way into the painting, and I'm pretty pleased that even though the oil paints I mix now are different from the ones I used in 1993, I was able to match the color and carry the brush marks around the edges, thus completing the painting and the experience it mirrors.

Bog Portrait, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 40 Inches, 1993. Private Collection.

Bog Portrait, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 40 Inches, 1993. Private Collection.

A recent photo of my wetland here in Lincolnville, was not the source for, but reflects the painting above, and that, in turn, records my first experience walking the boardwalk across a bog at Quoddy Head State Park. Seeing the painting flat on the sawhorses as I painted the edges, makes it pretty clear that here is a bog painting - and that stepping on it would damage it, just as stepping onto a peat bog will damage the layers of sphagnum moss that have taken centuries to build.

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Conversations Across Time: Early Work

Seeing chives greening up and buds getting ready to leaf out has me thinking about past springs, when I first came to Maine, and that spring after I moved from Belfast to Lincolnville. Time -- as they say -- marches on, and since it's been more than 30 years that I first walked Lincolnville Beach and really doubled down on painting, I've decided to devote this newsletter to a look at where I was back then, as well as what I think about now when I start a new painting.

Owls Head 5, photo and paper collage on mat board, 8 x 10 inches

Owls Head 5, photo and paper collage on mat board, 8 x 10 inches

In my first years in Maine, I did a lot of hiking and a lot of photographing. According to the maxim "Go where you're thrown and dig in deep," I wanted to learn as much as I could about this new landscape to which I seemed to be arriving home. By 1997, I was living here year-round and had enough installations and photographs accumulated that I could combine bits of each in collages that said something about a particular place and time.

Text has always played a major role in my installations. In those early days, I was fascinated by the calligraphy of rock formations. I filled long rolls of paper with paint marks and texts from my hiking journals. The papers I used in the collage above came from an installation of drawings at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky, variously reviewed as "flyby art" and "read the landscapes on the wall." I reconfigured the drawings for "Reading the Landscape" at the University of Maine/Farmington, and much later recycled some of them as collage materials.

Hills 9, watercolo r,  7.5 x 9.5 inches

Hills 9, watercolor, 7.5 x 9.5 inches

These imagined hills date from 1994, though if you look closely you'll see that six years later, I added a signature along the ridge lines. Is that an early selfie, or a recognition of the existential task of creating a painting? I think as artists we're meant to enjoy the experience of creating. If the rock stays balanced at the top of the hill, the painting is finished. If not - well then, like Sisyphus, we have to start again.

Barrens #10 , acrylic, charcoal, pastel, 10 x 14.5 inches. $500.

Barrens #10, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, 10 x 14.5 inches. $500.

On my way to and from Hancock and Washington Counties where I used to hike, I'd pass blueberry barrens. I always felt there was something there that I needed to paint, something more than the rock piles, but never could quite put my finger on it until I came to Maine in October 1994. And then, quite suddenly, I knew. The stunning color of the barrens pulled it all together and I spent my time on that trip up near Stockton Springs. Against the red of the blueberries, the gold birch leaves trembled like coins in the wind, and the clusters of stones were in conversation with each other.

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"Science as Art in Artists' Books" : Exhibition at Yale

I’m delighted that my book, Is There Something We Can Do, is included in the exhibition at Yale’s Haas Family Arts Library. Many thanks to Molly E. Dotson, the exhibition’s curator, who has chosen one of the images from the book to represent the show, and writes “These works from Arts Library Special Collections are scientific in subject, method, aesthetic, or some combination thereof. They range from atomic to planetary in scope and from data-driven to much more abstract meditations.”

In my book of drawings paired with my own notations and Buddhist texts, I documented the weather conditions as seen from my studio, as well as the materials I used to make thirty-one drawings, one for each day of December, 2013.

Drawing for Day Six, Watercolor and Ink over Erased Charcoal, 6 x 8 Inches, 2013.

Drawing for Day Six, Watercolor and Ink over Erased Charcoal, 6 x 8 Inches, 2013.

The accompanying text for Day Six reads “Erase a drawing and redraw the stones with blue ink using a steel nib pen. The weather is cloudy. We are what we think.”

Exhibition dates, February 1-May 10, 2019

Current and Upcoming Exhibitions

Upcoming:

Man-Made: A State of Nature, Greenhut Galleries, Portland, Maine, February 7 - March 2, 2019

Twenty-three artists and the Anthropocene. I’ll install a selection of the Walking in Time Geologics paintings, about which I wrote: The hidden geology beneath our feet is a reminder that what lies on the surface evolved without our intervention and will continue to evolve when we are gone.

 

 

Walking in Time, detail, oil on canvas

Walking in Time, detail, oil on canvas

Is There Something We Can Do at Steel House Projects, Rockland, Maine

What would an exhibition be without an expert photographer to document it? It was delightful to work with Dave Clough during my recent exhibition at Steel House. Dave beautifully captured the architecture of the gallery and of the book itself as displayed in the round on a pedestal. He also caught the original digital version that ran onscreen, the wonderful display case inside which Richard Reitz Smith documented his materials and timeline for the book’s production, and some of my earlier paintings that provided context for the book. Thanks also to Alexis Iammarino and Maeve O’Regan, co-curators, for their invitation to present the story behind my book, Is There Something We Can Do..

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