Tuesday, October 14, 2008
inquire, inquired, inquiry, inquiree
Glen came by my studio yesterday and we talked about the new projects I'm working on. When I first got to CCA I thought that my next move was to start renderings drawings of objects that critiqued and examined their role within a greater social context than my own experience. So I started on these drawings of things that aren't mine and found that I kept hitting walls-- I felt like I was being repressed by regarding objects as cliche or mass-manufactured with some sort of Pop sensibility, which really isn't my interest at all. And I mean, that's been done before, and it's been done really well, and I'm not sure I can help shed light on a topic that's already been floodlit. I think my drawings are smarter and more engaging to look at when they're backed by my own personal experience and sensitivities.
I'm very excited about my new drawings of lichens, based on the documentation I took during my trip to Colma. When I was in high school I studied botanical illustration with an amazing woman named Bente King. Already in her eighties at the time, she still worked for the Cornell herbarium drawing field specimens, and my mother had known her when she was enrolled there in the 70's. Bente passed away a few years ago, but there are probably thousands of drawings in her trace. I think these new botanical drawings connect to my other work because at their core there is a story. A story that explains my continuance of a family trade as the daughter of a botanist and descendant of nursery men and horticulturalists. And I think that what Bente was doing is a kind of storytelling too-- one about mortality and fragility in which she extended the life of plants beyond the limits of their green. And certainly her drawings have extended her presence beyond the limitations of age too.
Bente's illustrations of plants, existing somewhere between art and science, were also rendered without context, organic objects drawn against the blank white of paper. This makes me remember something John Paoletti used to hammer into the palpable minds of his art history students at Wesleyan-- that at one time art and craft were more closely linked-- that artists like Leonardo da Vinci were commissioned to do things like design weapons and flying contraptions, and that they studied cadavers and biological specimens, and recorded the way that water travels over rocks and grass blows in wind and anything else they needed to in pursuit of mastery of their craft. This kind of inspection and tireless inquiry is pretty inspirational. Less than 100 years ago barbers would also inspect your teeth and perform tonsillectomies on the fly, bridging fashion and function. I can only aspire to be so many-faceted. In the mean time, I like that drawing is a skill that lets me get in between these two places (of science/craft or fashion/function) and visually interpret the things I see, that it leads me to all sort of new inquiries and that it informs all aspects of what I'm still (and always) trying to figure out.