I am a strong believer in place, and how a region, community and a home will shape who you are. The place I know, where I was raised, is the Black Belt region of the American South. It is how I was raised, as a Southerner and as a Jew in a small southern town, instilled with belief in family and tradition that motivates me to document the place I call home.
Over the past year, I have been focused on producing a body of work that reflects how I feel both as a woman and an American Indian living in the 21st Century. In this body of work, I have strived to illustrate how I feel about the ancient legacy of my heritage while at the same time acknowledging the modern day and age. Each piece reflects my understanding and interpretation of Caddo tribal culture and the fight to maintain a place for it in today’s world. With the election of a new president, climate change and social oppression, it is more important than ever before to have a unique voice, express it, and strive to make it heard. In my work I try to explore themes of “the other,” cultural appropriation and history. With my work, I hope to create awareness and address issues that affect people who share a similar story. Through my installations, I hope to tell a story both of how one understands self and culture, but also what defines these ideals in America today.
Art and Earth define us as human beings. The rupture of connection with either renders us senseless and therefore only brutal. The language of art is sensual. It can stir the heart. It can bypass rational, linear processes. Art can be a transformer. The idea that imagination begets empathy and is awakened by the senses has shaped all that I have attempted as a citizen artist.
Through my work, I am interested in building a vocabulary that will one day tell a new story: a new mythology that restores mystery, beauty, silence, and imagination as central to our co-existence. My visual language favors archetype and allusion. Like dreams, it is a code simultaneously familiar, layered, and elusive. The Koan, a Buddhist teaching tool that takes the form of a paradoxical question, is another model for my work. Insight follows contemplation and the willingness to lose what one knows.
The materials I use are both substance and symbol. As substance they are ordinary, simple, and sometimes found yet within them, there is beauty. As symbols, they do not comfortably stand for one thing. On the scent of something large, they dodge the straight line of equation. The exacting repetitive gestures associated with the crafting of much of my work make the process a meditation; however, the parallel thought flow, or its absence, that accompanies these gestures also infuses the work.
The record of time is evident though silent in my work. Slowly taking form through accretion, thousands of horsehairs are individually threaded through hundreds of holes drilled in vines or tiny dowels. In the White Luminous Room, each of the 1500 ten foot long strands are made by tying and gluing tiny bundles of hair to a long thread. The liquidity of plaster is recorded in its hard celestial surface. The flow of ink is remembered by the contraction of the washi paper in the drying. Every ring of ink on each of the 80 hammered lead pans is a record of the evaporation of that single pool — concentrated, diluted, rinsed, repeated — until the right mark is made.
The Anthropocene is now — the first epoch defined by the impact of one species — ours — on the planet and all the systems that have spawned and supported what we have named “life.” The Cantos are my witness and meditations on now.
I am a conceptual mixed media artist, addressing issues of colorism and race. I seek to break stereotypes and address issues related to my life. My artwork is steeped in oral history and is an expression of the narrative. As a storyteller, I impart conceptualized stories about the “other” in society. I view myself as a vehicle for ancestral stories to transcend history and remain part of the historical record. The canvas of my artwork is fabric which I age and imbue with conceptualized images of a forgotten part of the American story. Using images and text, I embed the cloth with the hopes and visions of my ancestors, particularly those whose stories have remained invisible. Whether woven or stitched, every time my weft crosses the warp or my needle pierces the cloth, it reaches through another layer of scorched earth that slavery has left behind. In this way I attempt to reframe critical issues of race.
My work has a natural immediacy, like a snapshot, capturing the chemical reaction of liquid inks as they are pushed into paper with a press, or sculptures that move with ambient air currents around them, interacting with the viewer.
I am interested in new realms within the field of unique prints via innovative technique and scale. The deeply embossed prints begin with an elaborately textured matrix consisting of natural forms, including aerial views of landscapes. I love the sensitivity of a wet piece of paper which perfectly records the wild and varied objects and inks, allowing saturation deep into it — or thick, reticulated ink poised on its surface, translating the moment the chemistry is caught and transfixed into this sculptural monoprint. The visceral quality of large scale prints offers a highly textured physicality only possible with the specialized equipment we have built for this purpose.
After years of bronze casting, my interest in paper has turned to casting trees with paper. Using crepe myrtle trees felled during hurricane Katrina, I form the spines of these sculptures with archival abaca paper over the trunks and branches, with the help of a structural steel armature. Comprising a series called Wonder, these sculptures are finished with individually torn translucent vellum tendrils. Some have drops of crystal at their extremities, which hold points of light, and defy gravity, like beads of water traveling along strawberry leaves. While these appear fragile, the abaca paper is incredibly durable, adding to the work’s conceptual information. With close inspection, the surface reveals the individual placement of fingertip-like pieces of abaca, forming a complex, textured surface. The kinetic aspect of these works allows them to exist in space, as we do. Animated by the viewer’s ambient air movements, they become directly involved with their audience, while producing a dance of shadows.
My work attempts to elicit an experience rather than recording or depicting an object or place; ideally, communicating aspects of being human, as I continue to grapple with that complexity.
My works celebrate the plant and animal kingdom’s wide palette and intricate patterns. The process for creating the flora and fauna existing in my imaginary ecosystems can be likened to jazz- I’m riffing on nature, taking colors, structures, etc. from a variety of species and places, and reconfiguring them in a new way. Materials such as translucent tissue weight papers and glass inform these fantastic and ephemeral species.
These hybrids of various botanical and zoological species employ careful hand-color application, drawing, hand cut components, and a combination of printmaking techniques. The resulting fictional works reflect a delicate intricacy that requires time-intensive craftsmanship. Many of my works react to viewer proximity, or the airflow within an exhibition space, making the pieces seem to come to life when approached, evoking a sense of playfulness.
Observation in the field, and the study of botanical and zoological texts and illustrations, from antiquity to the present, are important to my work. I am interested in all the possibilities for transforming paper and use techniques including sculpture, pyrography, lithography, intaglio, digital printing, and ebru and suminagashi marbling methods (from Turkey, Iran and Japan). I make some of my own papers, and others are obtained from sources in Nepal and Japan.
I’m influenced by numerous sources, such as the work of Maria Sibylla Merian, Mary Delaney, and Winifred Lutz; the writings of Donald Culross Peattie, the expertise of the master papermakers in the Japanese prefectures who specialize in refined hand-papermaking, and many of my contemporaries who explore print and paper in ways both old and new. But mostly my work is inspired by my curiosity for the rich possibilities that printmaking, handmade papers, and glass offer for creating works that push traditional boundaries and reflecting a reverence for the natural world. The works I make require patience and dedication, and serve as a meditation for me. It offers the viewer something to wonder at, a tonic to the fast paced, screen based world that we live in today.
Enhancing the space and transporting the viewer are forefront in creating my public commissions. They reflect my desire to bring joy and beauty to viewers in public spaces. My designs begin as works on paper, are translated into digitally, and then realized in durable materials. The resulting fictional works reflect a delicate intricacy that requires time-intensive craftsmanship. When translated into glass, the viewer can see the changing light of day, and the resulting colorful reflections moving accordingly, cast onto the viewers and/or the surrounding architecture.
Most of my work comes from many marks I put on the surface. Then one shape pops out and starts to speak to another shape, and I just sort of put them in touch with each other until a feeling emerges and I develop it. When I worked earlier with symbols, I created the shapes. I would have something or someone in mind and draw those shapes until one appeared, and I would say, “That’s the one!” Later the marks were all from my unconscious. It becomes a very intuitive process. I am as surprised as the viewer very often because I don’t always know why or how I arrived at a certain painting, but what I do know for sure is it is from my gut and it’s honest and real and speaks its truth. Sometimes they reveal something to me; sometimes it’s not so clear. But either way something strong and emotional is being communicated.
In between my primary interest of abstract /figurative work I do series of self portraits which always satisfies a deep emotional need in me.
I would say endurance is just built into my constitution. I don’t do things halfway or give up easily. If I lose something I will spend hours, days, or weeks till I find it. I resolve every painting I do and won’t let it leave the studio until it feels absolutely right to me. At almost 74 now, my knees and back are giving me trouble (welcome to the club), but I won’t stop painting what is in my heart, and I will never retire! Anyway, have you ever heard a painter say they have retired? No….they just paint till they can’t anymore.
Cartography is both art and science as well as a powerful tool to control civilisations. Maps and atlases are fascinating because of significant information they can offer within a specific period of time. They are not faithful representations of reality, but they sometimes convey strong ideas which are the keys to understanding historical narratives — a determining element in my selections.
Influenced by my formal architectural training, I use the photographic medium to explore the crossing universes and boundaries of nature and culture. Social changes and spatial structures in a globalized world are at the heart of my artistic reflections; by examining in-between spaces, I propose an open frame where borders do not exist.
[W]ayfarer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.
— Antonio Machado, Proverbs and Songs 29
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
—Theodore Roethke, The Waking
As a child, I was always afraid of making the wrong decision. Selecting from many possible options was torture unless I could find a convincing rationale for my choice, some external justification beyond my own desire. Fear made me superstitious. I enlisted numerology, mythology, arcane patterns of all sorts to confirm the “rightness” of my decisions.
This body of work confronts decision-making head on. Still craving a system, I borrow one from nature: Plateau’s laws, which govern the branching and growth of many natural forms. Within that system, I improvise, lighting out for the territory without a map. Each drawing grows by slow accretion as I allow myself (or force myself) to make hundreds of tiny sequential decisions.
Working at the micro level, I have no idea of the macro consequences until I step back from the piece. Even then, because I work in ink, I can only move forward, building on what I have already laid down. There’s no turning back. The tiny decisions are irreversible, like scars and other indices of the unidirectionality of our lives. In this way, making the work is like life: a series of incremental choices whose full import we may not know for years.
There is no road: we make the road by walking, and learn by going where to go.