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.
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.
Proper Limits Installation Day 5
My installations are inspired by environmental and medical news stories pulled from today’s headlines as well as historical events. Source material so far has included the swine, avian and Spanish flu epidemics, vector borne diseases such as Lyme, malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever and West Nile Virus and the increased incidence of poison ivy with the growth of greenhouse gases. Once I’ve chosen an area of focus, I embark on a rigorous course of research and gather images, which I then alter, vet and reject through an elaborate system designed to completely subvert and distort any likeness to the original source. I am interested in this confluence of science and art, in methodology that thwarts my natural hand and in the contrast between “ugly” origins and sublime outcomes. The use of wax in its natural color as my primary medium is intentional — the neutral palette emphasizes shape, the aroma can be intoxicating and the texture is one that invites touch — all in support of my goal to lure viewers into an experience that they would certainly try to avoid had they encountered the original infection.
As an artist, I want you to care about something as much as I care. To do that I make work that is at the same time familiar, and a bit strange — mysterious and, I hope, poetic. I want the work to be accessible on numerous levels. I attempt that through the selection of materials, treatment of form, use of subject matter and the method of presentation. I remain conscious of how my work rubs up to art across time and how it is informed by that history. The sculptural objects and installations I have produced refer to topics as varied as High Modernism, topical issues, the landscape — both physical and cultural — as well as music, jokes and cartoons. I have consistently attempted to combine art historical references with vernacular influences. As a native of the rural south, I have a tremendous respect for work that is made by the hand and guided by the heart and eye. But I also understand the importance of the mind in this process. To state my approach to the making of art in the simplest and most direct manner, I have used these — the hand, the eye, the heart and the mind.
“Love Between the Atoms” refers to the attraction between the protons and the electrons in an atom. I see this attractive force as something that bonds us all together in this world. It is this attractive force which forms bonds at the subatomic level which makes thing work in the physical world that we experience. It is this attractive force that enables us to build forms with clay and to draw people together and build relationships with each other. In many ways, mutual attraction of one form or another is what enables us to connect and create interactions on microcosmic as well as macrocosmic levels, from the physical to the emotional.
I am interested in the interconnection of the myriad of layers in the world, from microcosm to macrocosm. Maybe it is because I grew up with both eastern and western cultures. I was brought up with the traditional chinese concept of yin and yang that underlies all life forms and energies. This was discussed every day by my grandmother, who also passed on to me the joy of making things. Growing up in Hong Kong and New York, I learned to look at everything through the lens of both cultures.
This interest in opposite ways of perception, the intertwining of dualities, has informed all my work for several decades since I was student. I am interested in the juxtaposition of mass/space, land/air, solid/hollow, male and female forms. I feel I am a hybrid hovering between opposites.
My work-study experience at the Rhode Island School of Design Nature Lab sparked my continued interest in forms and concepts from nature. Most of my inspirations for my work come from my direct observation of things in nature and within my life. Often it starts from a question or thought about some human experience; for example, pondering about how our bodies function under the skin, or fertility, and mortality.
I like to make things. It is my way of experiencing and understanding the world through my own filter. It is like ”tapping,” a term used by the Australian bushmen to refer to a sense of an animal or water nearby. It is a gut-felt, intuitive impulse to puts things that I feel, think about, question, or observe in my life into concrete form.
My artwork is a way to understand myself and the interpenetration of the worlds within and around us all.
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Bubbles of ancient CO2 captured in Arctic ice; mottled landscapes of mold that grew inside houses in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy; trails of fluid formed by the liquid contaminants in urban runoff – these phenomena represent nature in transition due to our culture’s impact on the environment.
The formations that manifest at such sites inspire me, in part because I have always lived at the water’s edge, from my childhood on Cape Cod to adult life in New Orleans and New York City. Hand blown glass sculptures evoke both bubbles in ice, and the fragility of the environment. A series of kinetic sculptures and wall drawings made of tiny black and white-headed pins borrow the patterns of mold in New Orleans after the floodwaters receded; a multi-channel video projected on to glass windows of a service station captures the chemical turbulence on the surface of puddles on the streets of New York, and an installation of over a thousand hand-built porcelain sculptures represents marine barnacles that will increasingly occupy coastal areas as our actions warm the globe and waters begin to rise.
Environments under stress are more than a thematic aspect of the work as the materials themselves have transitional qualities and are subject to interactive and evolutionary change. Ceramic sculptures are bisque-fired, without the final firing that would render them impermeable, leaving them porous and vulnerable. A series of blown glass “bubbles” installed in an outdoor urban lily pond take on water and algae as they become a part of the landscape, and reflect the world around them.
I explore the liminal space between nature untouched by human intervention and the “new nature” we create every day.