It is pretty bad when an entire season passes between posts, but I am pleased to return with one of the most striking aspects of autumn in St. Louis– the unlikely blue of the cloudless sky. And if you stand a yellow ginkgo tree in front of that blue, you are fortunate to observe what might very well be the most distinctive color contrast available to human vision. We have a 1993 Ford Explorer. It is my “occasional use” vehicle, perfect for hauling materials. It suffers from one of the most dated paint jobs available, and the color never made any sense to me until I came outside the other morning and saw it covered in leaves from our maple tree. Now I think of it as the most suitable of colors for St. Louis. Those two moments would have been enough for me, but I was blessed with one more when I returned home later in the day. Someone from the utility company had come by to mark the water lines on our street, and in a classic “not my job” gesture they had applied their blue spray paint to the shifting leaves instead of the asphalt. Standing there under the strange blue sky, next to my strange blue truck, looking down at the strange blue leaves, the looking felt like a good day’s work.
When I am working in the studio I like to skip around between the many projects that are underway, and I always enjoy starting new ones. In between paintings last week I started working on some possible ways of resolving two bodies of work with which I have been unsatisfied. One is a collection of worm-eaten shells similar to those featured in a previous post. The other is a set of landscape paintings executed in ink on rice paper. The shells were objects without a home, and the paintings were homes without an object. These works in progress (I’ve posted two of them, above) are direct descendants of the photographs that I took in South Carolina this summer, with the significant change being the stage-like shift to a painted backdrop. I’ve been reworking the photographs digitally, and we will just have to wait to see where they go.
Yesterday we returned to our home after our annual trip to the east coast. We relaxed for a week at the beach in NC before heading to the woods in SC. We look forward to these trips as an opportunity to catch up with our family, but they are also one of the most inspirational and productive times of the year for us. Christine has been pursuing documentary photography projects at both locations for the last six years, and the project in SC is one where we collaborate. More on that later.
I have included four images of some of my inspirations from the trip. This year I was really taken by the worm-eaten remnants of shells, which have many of the characteristics of Chinese scholar’s rocks in miniature. I settled for photographs in most cases, as I am trying to be increasingly selective about what I drag back to my studio. I was also able to dig up some nice additions to my rock collection from the fill dirt around my parent’s property. I am considering the purchase of a few tons next year just so that I can sort through it for treasures. There are always potholes on the lane that need filling, after all.
Recently I have been making bases for my growing collection of scholar’s rocks. This is satisfying work, because the shift in context instantly elevates the observation and contemplation of the stone. It is roughly equivalent to putting a frame on a painting. An old trick and a simple pleasure– put a frame on anything and it gains at least the implication of importance. This has much in common with the contemporary trend of “white box” exhibition spaces. The gallery becomes its own framing device, separating the art from the world by being as silent and sterile as possible. Observing that transformation can be a little disconcerting for both the artist and the viewer. The implication that “anything can be art” always smacks of a power grab by the incompetent, and so the questions “what makes it good?” and “what makes it art?” remain vital.
The conversation is further complicated in my own mind when the objects are found, not made. My activity as an artist increasingly incorporates such “ready-mades”, and while this practice is well supported I find that I am inclined to balance aspects of collection with creation. There is friction between the two which, at its best, can function as iron sharpening iron. It highlights the arguments between art and craft, philosophy and activity, the spirit and the flesh.