Tag Archives: bottle


Anyone working mindfully within a tradition faces the challenge of setting themselves apart from their influences, of paying homage without appearing derivative.  Being an admirer of Giorgio Morandi’s work, last year I started a project that engages his still life paintings by way of woodworking.  I’ve visited the reproduction of his studio in the Museo Morandi in Bologna, and one of the things that struck me was the specificity and singularity of the objects that he was arranging and observing for his paintings.  Bottles were painted either inside or outside, labels on boxes were painted over, dust was allowed to collect.  The personalities that he was tamping down were further suppressed through the act of painting.  These aren’s so much collections of individuals as they are pieces of a puzzle, and the collective mass has a unity that resonates with the care and efficiency that exudes precision and purpose.

Postcard photograph of objects in the studio, Museo Morandi, Bologna

I wondered if these seemingly innocuous objects could be extracted from the group context and reinvested with value as an individual.  The way I went about it was to turn wooden objects on the lathe.  The objects are “similar” rather than precise copies of those found in the paintings, and this allows shifts in scale to equate with shifts in vision or attention.  Because they are meant to be seen individually, the objects are not subject to direct comparison.  One of the hazards of this venture became readily apparent– the possibility that the objects would slip back into their utilitarian niche so tightly as to be insignificant or unrecognizable as objects of art.  To help ward this off, I have been using green wood and have not been hollowing out the forms.  They keep the appearance of the vessel without actually becoming one, and as the wood dries it develops distinctive cracks.  The one thing they still manage to contain is information, since the group is developing acting as an index of local species.  This gets involved with ideas that are of interest to me in my painting and my collection of artificial plants– the power of illusion to inform but not supply, a territory of recognition kept off balance by a shifting definition of “usefulness”.

vase (black walnut), 2013

bottle (cherry), 2013

bottle (tulip magnolia), 2013

bottle (black oak root), 2013

all good things…

documenting the lonesome pine, photo by Christine Amick Sarra

documenting the lonesome pine, photo by Christine Amick Sarra

a bottle on the old dump site, under the oaks

a bottle on the old dump site, under the oaks

We just returned from our annual trip to the east coast, where for the past seven years or so Christine and I have been juggling several different projects.  While the sites in North and South Carolina maintain a certain degree of magic for us, we both had the feeling that some of the extended documentation and artworks were drawing to a close.    The task ahead is to try to determine what has been accomplished, and what the best forms/forums might be for presenting the work.

One nice piece of my summer reading has been The Stones of Emptiness, a book of poems by Anthony Thwaite.  The selection below was serendipitously juxtaposed with my time on and overlooking the tidal rivers and mudflats of the Carolinas.

At Pagham Harbour

These are salt acres, the sea’s tithes

Drenched twice a day, worked by the crab and gull.

At low tide mud heaves and breathes

But only in waiting for the levelling pull

Each wave makes as it fills the harbour mouth.

Coarse grasses stand

Stiff before even the strongest wind.

No hedges here, or walls, or any path

Except for the birds’ frail tracks,

The scribbled spoors of crabs, and scattered rocks.

No one can tell the way the paths

Ran once, and who has walked them, over there

To Manhood, maybe, where the water bathes

Its buried church.  The sea smothers the air

And we breathe salt and hear only the sea.

I think about

That ninetheenth-century parson who looked out

And saw a wall of water half-fill his sky,

The sea marking its bounds,

Breaking its barriers, inheriting its lands.