As October unfolds, and we get closer to All Hollows Eve, I’m reminded of the stories of Ray Bradbury and his brand of introspection. With the harvesting all around me, including the grape crushing I help my friend, Larry Oates with at Sleeping Dog Wines, I sense the winding down of the year, and I find myself pondering life, death and renewal. I’ve been working on some facial reconstruction sculpting of ancient individuals, who very likely built their belief systems around seasonal changes and the planting and harvesting of crops, changes in the cosmos overhead, and, in turn, created visual symbolism that related to the flow of nature and how it effected them. When I study long periods of history, I tend to feel humbled at the scope of natural forces surrounding me and respond accordingly.
Fall is here, and the light outdoors is getting that wonderful low angle to it. Along with the crisp edges and shadows, objects stand out in contrast and appear even more three dimensional. Although it is still warm here in the Columbia Basin area- close to 90 degrees as the high- most of the day is pleasant to be out, which feeds my hiking hobby, and the resulting nature observations fuel my art making. I have several new ideas I am working on in my noggin, and a few are becoming tangible, as well. More on all that to come very soon.
There’s a lot to communicate about the “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (20KLUS) series of illustrations, since it has developed over about 50 years of my life. Verne’s novel was the first book I read all the way through from my grade school library- and that was a really poor translation with half of the content left out! The Disney movie certainly grabbed me visually, and many other versions of the story over the years. When I finally got to read Miller’s translation, with all the original content in place, I could pull all the pieces together into my own visual interpretations. Why black and white? Probably because the novel is a story of the opposition of forces and extremes. I also wanted to give a tip of the hat to the original illustrations, which were wood engravings and printed in B&W.
I guess, being “old school,” I was trained and developed my abilities in two dimensional art forms, along with the 3D stuff. One of the more recent outcomes of a lifetime of drawing, is my illustrations of Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I grew up with Jules Verne’s masterwork, and have always been intrigued with his vision as a creator of fantastic adventure fiction based on scientific theory. After reading Walter Miller’s translation, and finding out how inaccurate previous translations have been, I decided to pursue my own set of illustrations. These drawings are, in no way, an attempt to compete with the original engravings by Riou, Neuville, and Hildibrand, but rather represent my personal interpretation of the events put forth by Verne in his novel.
So…natural landscape not only influences my work as an artist, but often become the artwork itself. Sometimes it surfaces through a romanticized version, such as my recent “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” illustration series, where the sea and the submarine become the landscape. I find the concept of human-made technology inserted into the natural world to be endlessly inspiring because it can be interpreted as either a good marriage of forces, or a bad one, depending on the artist’s and the viewer’s points of view. How far do we engineer our world, and how far do we preserve nature in its raw state? How do we humans balance our needs for survival with those of naturally occurring species?
I was asked, recently, how nature influences my artwork. My observations, over many years, along with my rolling around out in the open landscapes of this country, seems to seep into and then pour out of my subconscious as I make art. Those realities show up in the textures and colors of my sculptured surfaces and even in the way I process materials in both my three dimensional as well as two dimensional art forms. The layering of media, whether graphite or plaster modeling, is not unlike the geological layering of natures landscape forms. I sometimes refer to the figures I create as “vertical landscapes” for this reason. If an observer casts their eyes close up and across the metal surfaces of my sculptures, they take on the look of a landscape; not unlike the canyons and hillsides of the many places I have trekked.
Since Saturday is my birthday and I just finished (except for a few touches) a new piece, I thought it high time I blogged about life and art making again. I don’t have a title for this one yet, mainly because, although it is a finished sculpture in its own right, the idea is for a much larger outdoor installation. Whether I will get the chance to create that big piece through a commission, remains to be seen, but I am certainly happy to propose it to anyone who might be interested. I would like to see this sculpture made at about a 20-25 foot tall size and sited outdoors in a space that allows it room to breathe. Life in general is good. My wife, Ann, has new adventures developing in her work world, as do I, and the on-going struggle to protect the Amon Creek Natural Preserve continues. (Check out the Tapteal Greenway web site for the latest on that.)
Boy, howdy! How does one concentrate on creative work in a world gone mad? The more I investigate or get involved with politics, locally or nationally, the crazier my brain gets. So, it comes down to focusing on a few of these social concerns that I can have some impact on, and then absorb the rest, in order to protect my creative head space. I have to choose my battles, and allow that interaction to feed the creative process for art making. Another piece of the “craziness” is observing the rapid deterioration of my 94 year old mother. If art comes from life, the question I am grappling with is how do the issues of aging play into my art? We’ll see.
Sometimes people forget that, along with all our more freely expressive works of art, artists also create more utilitarian pieces. Right now, I am working on a steel outdoor arbor for some clients. The finished piece will be situated over their existing outdoor deck and have wisteria growing all over it. This should create a more enjoyable space for them and their friends to socialize around (and under) as well as helping to cool the house by establishing a shaded area on a currently very exposed side of the building. The challenge, among others, is to prefabricate all the metal components and then bolt them together on the site and have everything fit! Retrofitting like this is always interesting. Onward!
Sometimes it’s a good thing to reflect on some older works that I have created to learn new or review past experiential lessons. Such was the other day, as I reviewed some digital images of art I made while living in Bellingham, Washington around 1979. I was working on a series of “spirit catcher” forms that were inspired from ancient Native American artifacts I viewed through museum collections. The abstract concept of capturing some sense of the natural environment and the emotions it evoked in me was very inspiring, not only at that time in my life, and still does. Although, I would approach this same subject matter differently today, the basic concept remains the same. I think I’ll play around with that for a while, and see where I go with my ideas.