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My work is a visual expression of the interconnectedness of perceived opposites. For the past 50+ years, my work has involved the use of negative and positive space, light, and transparency. I have always been fascinated with the ways in which light and shape are both presence and absence. Past bodies of work bring the foreground and the background planes of the sculpture or installation into one interconnected space.
In essence, my work demonstrates such relationships as light and dark, negative and positive, and emptiness and solidity. These relationships seem to imply difference at first glance, but because they are entirely interdependent, they reflect our interdependent existence. This implies that there is a deeper harmony in our environment that we may often overlook. My approach to art has always been to reveal life’s true nature in the everyday.
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Nothing can be taken for granted. Constant change proves to be the only reliable point of reference. Equilibrium being as fleeting as life itself, one fuses an array of thought fragments retrieved from memories into a drawing of graphite, metal or wood. By doing so, the artist builds a fragile mental world of metaphor that lends meaning to his largely unnoticed visit among the general population.
Among the works shown here, A Taunt Done, eh? is an homage to Duchamp’s “Étant donnés,” which extracts the perspective aspect of his barn door, wall and the distant waterfall, then reverts them to an actual outdoor setting. (The wattle enclosure with window was constructed about 100 yds from the dam’s spillway). Perpetual Notion Machine (aka Sisyphus machine) is from a “Railcar/dolly” series of metaphorical self-portraits embodied by abandoned wheeled vehicles featuring absurd routines, introspective dead ends, malfunctioning equipment and failed objectives: A ball bearing sitting in a receptacle beckons the viewer to insert it in the upper hole, and the unseen ball makes a loud clanging that resembles an idling steam engine as it traverses a staccato path to the lower cup. Perpetual Notion Machine tacitly invites the viewer to attempt to operate manual controls, hit the kill switch, read the solar-powered temperature gauge’s gibberish, and blow or poke a ball bearing (the dilating eye) from one side to the other.
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Inspired by an interest in anthropology, mythology, and psychology, my work explores how identity is forged from early pre-verbal experience through the later influences of language and culture.
In my earlier sculpture, I give concrete form to intangible sensations and barely remembered bodily experiences. This is accomplished by creating hybrid forms of mixed origins of experience – fusions of animate and inanimate worlds, simultaneously familiar yet strange. Body fragments, vegetative processes, and microscopic life fuse, mutate, and morph, and the resulting objects invite recognition while remaining mutable, suggestive, and indeterminate. Visceral experiences of longing, repulsion, fear, loss, curiosity, and discovery are elicited.
In my more recent installations such as “Little Red Riding Hood as a Crime Scene,” “Elegy for Tesla,” and “T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets,” popular folktales, history, and literature are reimagined through a contemporary lens and made into multi-sensory environments. In these installations, sculpture, videos, interactive elements, and animation create a space for exploring the implications of these known narratives and for reimagining new perspectives.
Most recently I am working on a stop motion animation, “Alice in Dystopia,” a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In this version, Alice and the Rabbit fall down the wrong rabbit hole into the contemporary world of 2020, with all of its environmental and societal ills, where the characters must find a way to confront the current crises and offer hope for renewal and change.
In all of my work different signifying systems of image, motion, language, and sound intertwine, highlighting and allowing us to reexamine different aspects of our internal and external experiences, the stories we have been told, and the assumptions we have internalized.
How we navigate multi layered experience, where signification and understanding is being endlessly reshaped, and how we create meaning and self-determination from the cacophony of sensation, memory, myth, and cultural history is the subject of all my work.
My work is informed by my nomadism between countries, languages and ways of seeing or thinking. My Maps Series in particular explores my identity and heritage through geographical and road maps found in my childhood home after my father’s death. The maps I use are the carrier of my personal and family migrant history. They are the support of my individual experience and of our collective knowledge.
In the artwork, the maps are drawn, cut, painted or assembled to create three-dimensional objects and works on paper. The printed matter that I transform retains its integrity as a public document, while it simultaneously holds fragments of my personal migratory journey. In an age of technology and electronic tools, the maps reflect an in-between world. By examining the tactile quality of paper in the creation of sculptural objects, I explore my own personal displacement experiences and question the inherent transience of the surrounding world.
My work becomes the witness to my migrating life and my interaction with individuals, places, and memory. The long, fastidious, repetitive action of my creative process both physicalizes and metaphorically reflects the time that it takes to integrate into new environments.
Growing up in rural Ireland in the 1960s through 1980s, I often heard my mother talking of the “big house” and the class system that was clearly in place, ending each story with “Their ways weren’t our ways”; later, when my family ran a boarding house, she would dismiss the tourists who stayed with us with the same comment. My childhood was defined by the “if you can’t make it, you can’t have it” Ireland, a place where making things—food, shelter, ornament—and making do were central to both the physical and emotional survival of the family. That reality and the resulting radical attitude to tradition, high-class impurity, and rascality inherent in the Irish culture of that time expressed itself not only in my mother’s words but in the language, literature, people, and music that surrounded me as an adolescent. As a young painter this sensibility naturally carried over into how I looked at the modern masters, and to the questions asked of their conventions and their “ways.” I’ve always been most interested in the modest lyricism of the purely mundane, never feeling abstraction to be the sole province of the heroic and the cerebral. Throughout my career, I have been constructing a very personal and idiomatic formal language based in simple materials and unglamorous gestures, a framework which functions as a kind of syntactical grid of shifting equivalences. The “paintings” that emerge from this process know their family history, a narrative of greatness fallen on hard times. Yet, for all that, they remain remarkably un-defensive, wobbly, presuming no need to disavow the past or defy the present. I work from memoir, stories of growing up on the farm in Wexford and my life now in the States, short stories that I then fashion from the archaeology of my studio. I work the studio as my father worked the farm, with invention out of need, using my own displacement as fodder for meaning. I take things apart, forgetting conventions and reapply my own story to the form. I revel in the history of painting, its rules, its beauty, its techniques, but fold them back into the agricultural language I grew up with. I’m interested in the personal, my own story, and the history of storytelling. My new work delves into my own history as a painter, rooting in the ruins and failures of my own studio for both subject matter and raw material. I have disassembled the wooden structures of previous paintings—the stretchers, panels, and frames—and have cut them back to rudimentary hand-built slabs of wood, glued and patched together, their history of being stapled, splashed with bits of paint, and stapled again to linen clearly evident. The residual marks on the frames, coupled with their internal organization, begin to form a constellation of densities, implying an idiomatic syntax of organic fluctuation where compact spaces coexist with the appearance of gaping holes where the rickety bridges have given way. Formal and structural concerns become inseparable, the slippery organization of their fluctuating grids showing a transparency both literal and historical. With both serenity and abandon, these structures imagine the possibility that painting might take root and find a place to press forward into fertile new terrain. Humorous, enigmatic, these fragments bare their histories as well-worn objects, and in that maintain a certain irrefutable integrity, speaking to both the strengths and frailties ingrained by hard use and the passage of time. What long remained hidden as merely the bones behind the image plane have been exhumed and remade into the tendons and sinews of the image itself. Through the process of deconstruction and reassembly, the pieces invert the conventional anatomical hierarchies of painting in an attempt to find what is fresh and vital among the entrails of the image. The paintings affirm over and over again in elegant fashion the pleasures of a demanding and nonjudgmental yet always self-conscious practice of painting that gives joy to the eye and substance to the spirit. I am interested in painting that would stand up without the usual structures of support. I am looking at my own life, the history of Sean-nós singing in Irish music, Beckett’s pared-down language, and the currency of need found in most houses when I was growing up.
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.
My studio is both outside & inside. As I walk outward to soak in the place, to trod the fields and forests, my pockets fill with the landscape’s treasures — birch bark with its dots and dashes, unfurling hornet’s nests, fallen flowers & leaves, cast off feathers; at the same time, my mind undertakes the cataloguing of the daily changes — freshly sprouted spring ephemerals, the autumn return of the junco, the mint filled with feasting honeybees. Later, these findings and sitings become marks on both paper and cloth and imbue the interior with the spirit of the exterior. The acts of dyeing and stitching bring me back to the glimpsed lichen on the tree, the lines on the birch bark, the frozen ice on the pond and the sounds of the birds in the trees.
“Our eyes see what is outside in the landscape in the form of words on paper but inside, a slash or mark wells up from a deeper place where music before counting hails from.” Susan Howe, Debths (New Directions, 2017)
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.
Using soft materials and found objects, I create tactile objects and installations about human relationship. I redefine needle art techniques and transform the everyday into works of contemporary relevance. There is a presence of the maker in the shape of thousands of stitches, hand-wrought forms and, as in my collaborations, the orchestrated actions of many. Influenced by my travels, I draw from historical and cultural experiences around me that extend from my neighborhood to time spent in the Far East. Impressions from a residency in Shenzhen China, where citizens are experiencing radical social changes, resulted in works about the universal and confusing contradictions of identity and place. A fellowship in Thailand found me sharing a mudhouse with scorpions, centipedes, and more. These strange bedfellows feared me as much as I did them, yet over time a mutual respect developed as we each accepted the other – with the realization that neither my multiple-legged roommates nor myself are alone but part of a larger whole.
The exhibit Unidentifed Woman engages with the collections at Historic Northampton and the forces that have shaped women’s identities since the 18th century, by fusing personal experiences and ideologies into sculptures that contribute to the progress of both art and feminism. For this project, I strove to create headwear that infers an inner vitality and self awareness on the wearer – thereby redressing fashion’s oppression.
Headwear has long played a role in indicating the class, status and occupation of the wearer – enforcing conformity and erasing individuality. From the 18th century poke bonnet which restricted women’s field of vision, to today’s hijab, women in particular have been subjugated to fashion dictates and social norms. These headwear sculptures offer a vehicle for a subversive coded language which addresses the play between women’s visibility and invisibility.
Struck by the poignant anonymity of the museum’s daguerreotypes, I scoured flea markets for similar images which I then altered with raw and idiosyncratic stitches that call attention to the Unidentified Woman whose name is long forgotten. This obsolete photographic process aligns with today’s social media; both are means that allow people to alter their public identity through the curation of carefully chosen images. In this way I stitch together past and present identity politics to provide an alternative chronology where expression replaces suppression and sewing equals activism.