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.
I make wooden sculptures that look like animal anthropomorphic creatures, sometimes monsters too. Actually I think that these are all humans. (A metaphor of the human condition.) “What is it to be human?” “What is the human being?” I am interested in these questions. I am also interested in the question of what is it to be Japanese. Sometimes humans are animals and monsters. Human beings have various aspects.
I sometimes imagine that my work looks silly, funny and the characters are foolish but also cute, lovely and sweet. Also sometimes they are expressionless and we can’t tell from their expression what they are thinking. In a sense possibly they are like the Japanese character… perhaps.
I have been making a series of works called Faithful Dog Man. Actually, when I make this work I imagine a “faithful person character” in my mind. Who is the Faithful Dog Man faithful to? What is the Faithful Dog Man faithful to? What country is the Faithful Dog Man faithful to? I sometimes put messages and humor in my work, like this. However I am not interested in directly telling people only an ironic message. Because I would like my work “people and creatures” to be loved by other people and me. I would like my characters to be loved by people, and my characters to feel close to people and me. Because they are always looking for a new owner.
My work in ceramics and mixed media collage revolves primarily around issues of family and my Asian-American background. Cultural marginality and blending, tradition vs. Westernization, language and translation are key elements in my work. Since the birth of my son in 1987, I have been drawing inspiration from major events in my family’s history, the day-to-day challenges of parenting, and my own childhood memories of being raised in a minority culture in the United States. I use the image of a child as a symbol of innocence, potential and vulnerability.
In Joakim Ojanen’s new body of work, he expands into more complex motifs and materials. Ojanen’s glazed ceramic, “Flower Eyes, Yin Yang Shirt, and Polka Dot Dress,” is a young woman in a yellow, bell-shaped, dress, who plaintively holds a vase containing a wilted thistle. Her eyes pop out of her head and morph into delicate flowers. Her dress, surrounded by flowers, features a cave-like hole, which reveals a pair of bare feet that straddle a small detached head. Ojanen has also created two large-scale bronze sculptures, multiple charcoal drawings, and several oil paintings, for the exhibition. In Ojanen’s bronze sculpture, “Bossy Bird Claimed My Nose in The Park,” a drunk and queasy park denizen awakens to find his extended Pinocchio/Giacometti nose has been taken over by a nesting bird.
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Adams Puryear explores the Internet’s flow of convoluted information and how tactile materials and different media can represent it. Experimenting with physical translations of the Internet’s anti-filter rabbit hole, Adams continues to return to the materials of ceramic and gypsum to create historically sedimented sculptural elements contrasting present-day electronic displays and dynamic materials. Obsessively grazing over electronic images of history and culture, Adams understands the Internet’s growth and its visualization of time as one slowly unfolding in a nonlinear and ultimately muddled formlessness. In much of his work an amorphous and colored blob, moving in-real-time from a ceramic container, becomes another dichotomy to the push-pull of digital-analogue, historical-new, formal-experiential oppositional elements in the work. Paradoxically it is this oozey blob — a material with a comparatively short lifespan and history that over weeks empties from the sculpture’s body and continues to change until it reaches a solid state — which slows down a viewing and resists a tidy resolution. This is the work’s answer to our culture’s continued acceleration.
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.
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 examines the relationship between nature and the body. Utilizing a wide variety of materials — concrete, clay, resin, wood, foam, fabric, artificial plants, paper pulp and handmade paper; craft and recycled items, I create textural forms and compositions that blend the human-made world with the natural, exploring notions of control, consumerism and life’s fragility. My artistic process is in great part guided by the physical qualities of the materials, their textures, forms and colors; and informed by concepts of femininity, fashion, sexuality and artificiality.
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.