Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 25.1 (2004) 111-121
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New Relationships, New Connections, and the Side Journeys that Feed My Soul
After a two-month absence, Thelma, our wild turkey friend, showed up with nine babies. We noticed immediately that one of the youngsters (we nicknamed him Timmy) was always dawdling behind the otherwise tight group. He wandered off alone to sniff something or check behind a rock or scratch at a fallen leaf—much to Thelma's dismay.
In thinking back on over thirty years of making art, I attempt to envision the body of my work as an integral whole. But, like Timmy, my own wanderings and haphazard investigations are an important part of my art-making process. My work begins with an observation—visual or mental—and a question. The question can be as vague as "I wonder?" or as simple as "What if?"
As a child growing up in Chicago, I loved collecting leaves, painting fog, watching ant trails. In college, I studied science to try to understand what I saw. I am fascinated with the natural world and the place of humans within it. My art often blurs the edges between animals and humans, between plants and humans.
I juxtapose images to form new relationships and new connections. Sometimes these connections are humorous or curious, but they can also be disturbing. The forms and images have both a decorative quality and a metaphorical or narrative purpose. I was trained in painting and printmaking, which I often combine in a single artwork. Woven into the layers of paint and ink are surprises—images, words, things to contemplate.
My sketchbooks are filled with drawings from nature, sketches of folk art pieces from around the world, quotes from people far more articulate than I, diary-like ramblings, traces of powerful images from dreams and memory. These are the ingredients, waiting for that moment of connection, when my life presents me with an itch, that serendipitous "Oh, no!" or sometimes just an unfocused ache. Experimenting with new materials and media energizes me and my work. Actually, I think of all my output as "experiments." One never [End Page 111] knows exactly what will happen after the initial impetus. It does make me edgy, but I love being surprised.
My earliest work focused on personal experiences, discoveries in nature, humor, and joy. Later, seeking stronger physiological similarities between human and animal morphologies, I created paintings based on x-ray images, where skin, fur, and feathers disappeared, and the underlying structures of living creatures were revealed. For instance,Space Lander (CL-015-D2) permits many visual interpretations.
I have spent much of my life as a social activist. Along with the natural world, my artwork touches on the social issues that have emotionally and intellectually formed my consciousness. During the 1990s, I compared the organizations and behaviors of animal societies to our own, reflecting on possibilities for—and against—human survival.Everlovin' Light is a direct commentary on the human tendency to consign our problems to oblivion.The Inheritors looks at the persistence and interdependence of life forms.
I have been fortunate to have worked with wonderful artists and scholars over the years to produce collaborative pieces I would have never conceived by myself. These performances and drawings, generated through interactions with fellow artists, students, and my husband, led to new ways of pursuing my own art. One exciting opportunity was to work with Laura Nyro in 1983 as she was writing the songs for her albumMother's Spiritual. I worked on drawings for the album cover while sitting in her home in Connecticut, watching snow cover the birches and listening to Laura at the piano. I was lucky to be an integral part of the group of women faculty who contributed to the bookWomen and the Journey, published in 1993. The monthly gathering of women scholars at Washington State University was initially intended as a support group for the researchers' directions and presentations. This culminated in a remarkable...