Cartography began as a continuation of my ongoing themes, combining map imagery with wrestlers, symbolizing how human conflict has effectively reshaped the earth in our image and to accommodate us.
When I conceived of the piece, I wanted to work large but was not in a location where I could purchase and transport large canvases, so I made the work from small pieces of cardboard I found in the street, each scrap additing it’s own aesthetic and history to the piece. Working modularly and with “recycled” materials also freed me up to be less precious about the work, allowing me to explore themes and styles in a way that I resisted previously. As another bene t, I could choose to work inany size I wanted and to con- tinue to grow the piece in any direction.
I’ve worked on sections of Cartography since 2000 and most recently combined very large and previously unrelated portions into a mural installation, pictured above.
I wish I could tell you that the production of this work was not the result of obsessive rumination, but… The “tasks” I captured on these hand-crafted “Post-its” were internal imperatives, bottled up as I prepared for a one-person show in 2005. I had also just completed a mixed media workshop, allowing myself to stretch beyond representative painting and drawing into works that could more directly and quickly communicate my feelings. As I prepared my exhaustive “to do” list for the show, I started to question my motivations for creating art and my need to express myself, and these notes to myself took on a life of their own.
I chose paper and colors carefully to provide a degree of separation from literal sticky notes. I also wanted the work to read on a couple of levels, as an abstract work from across the distance but revealing an entirely different layer of meaning when viewed close up, with word play and inversion of clichés to disrupt the viewer’s expectations.
I showed this work for one week, then took it down and stuck in a Ziplock bag for 10 years. Last year, I decided it was time to recreate it and was surprised that I still find it both amusing and compelling. Many of the sentiments I captured were genuine and still resonate with me, representing my hopes, insecurities and under-realizable dreams as an artist and as person trying to create meaningful life while conforming to societal expectations of acceptable and admirable behavior.
In 2007, I was visiting South Africa and participated in an art program that began with three weeks in cultural immersion in and around Cape Town, including hiking to see rock painting of the San people, touring the townships and Robbin Island and the visiting with contemporary local artists, followed by a week of studio time. Except for a small kit of supplies the participating artists brought from home, we were instructed to use materials at hand and work on themes that had emerged from our experiences.
While South Africa’s history has many parallels to the United States, the differences, including the legacy of apartheid, are astounding and sometimes difficult to process. But from a place where there has been so much recent violence and pain, there is inspiration in the natural beauty of the land and resilience of the people. In addition to the important cultural institutions we visited, the markets of Cape Town are filled with the art of many African peoples and I was struck how they embrace the use of recycled modern materials, transforming them by exploiting their aesthetic and constructive qualities.
When I decided to begin some drawings, cardboard seemed like a natural choice because of it’s abundance and practical beauty. I was also attracted to the idea of constructing a large work out of many small pieces and that I could then pack up and bring home. The series, which began with an image of an African wrestler in an abstracted map-based landscape, continues to evolve as I slowly refine the conceptual use of the cardboard. Each drawing visually links with the next, creating a progression of interconnected of images that has the potential to become a mural of enormous size that may never actually be presented in it’s entirety.
I found printer trays from an old Chinese printing press in a junk shop in Sonoma County in 2006. Actually, the 15 trays were stacked in the grass in the back yard of the shop, next to discarded sinks and storm windows. I was intrigued by the both the mystery of their origins and the beauty of their weathered patina. They were hand-made in a fairly simple fashion with strips of wood nailed together with a press board backing. Between the strips of wood, pieces of sheet metal had been carefully cut and inserted, providing cubby holes for the lead type used in letterpress printing. Though only a few of the tiny leads remained, the labels representing each of the Chinese characters were still fixed to the surface of each tray.
For almost a year, the trays sat in my studio–I knew I wanted to do something with them but wasn’t sure what. I had recently begun working with mixed media and using and found images, but the trays represented a unique challenge because of their abstract quality. However I intervened, I didn’t want to overwhelm or hide the beauty of the trays and wanted to transform them in some way that was conceptually and aesthetically meaningful. I began by inserting tiny objects either found from nature or from my studio into the tiny slots, much as larger printer trays for English type are used as curio shadow boxes by hobbyists.
Concerned about the kitschy reference, I thought about trying to make an arrangement of objects that could define a larger composition, using the holes as picture elements. I tried black and white drawing paper folded and fitted into the slots as “pixels.” Unhappy with the result, next I tried higher quality paper that could be curled into the slots instead of folded, which created the illusion of tiny colorful discs. Pleased with the direction, I started slicing up old calendars featuring Van Gogh and Gaughin prints into tiny strips. While the use of the paper felt right, the resulting compositions of color-paper strips were either random, non-discript or contrived, consistently overwhelming the trays instead of complementing them.
I had recently been to the Friends of the San Francisco Library’s annual book sale, where I found a selection of incredible atlases for $1 and $2, each with maps that I was attracted to because of their distinctive visual language of lines, colors and typography to represent a particular view of the world. I found a beautiful map of the world’s sea floors from an old Reader’s Digest atlas. The maps in themselves had a strong visual quality with aquamarine blue for the oceans and tans, browns and oranges for the land. As I worked on the first work of what would become the Rearranged World series, I wanted to maintain the beauty of the maps even as I destroyed them. I found the best way to keep the qualities that attracted me was to organize the strips by color and make simple compositions that could maximize the contrast between the areas, resulting in a minimalist composition of concentric rectangles, with blue in the center, surrounded by a white rectangle to clearly divide the aqua from another, larger tan rectangle.
Pleased with the results of the latest effort, I started another to complement. I didn’t want to merely repeat the same pattern and, as I filled the little slots with curls of paper, recognized that leaving some of the slots empty could also be used as a way of adding contrast and variety to the texture. In the end, I completed three pieces which now work as a set.
In 2008 I participated in an show at the Thoreau Center with an environmental theme called “The Water Project” and included the three new works. As I struggled with the titles, I began to recognize some of the symbolic qualities of the works, as an expression of humanity’s rearranging of the world and how that impacts everything, including the seas, so I settled on the title Rearrange World: The Seas, with the idea that additional works in the same theme would follow.
I didn’t immediately complete the rest of the Rearranged World type tray pieces by using maps. I struggled to understand what made The Seas work while the earlier pieces using simple colored paper and snippets of calendars had not. It wasn’t the use of maps in particular or the composition of shapes but rather a combination of those elements along with the striking texture created by the curls of paper and the empty slots in relationship with the wood and tiny paper labels of the trays. What I enjoy the most about the works in this series is that they can be perceived differently depending on the distance of the viewer. From farther away, they read as works of minimal abstract and rich texture, but up close, new levels of detail and information emerge.
A print featuring illustrations of 32 wrestling poses caught my eye at a flea market. The original cross-hatch drawings are beautiful in their own right, with amazing details and exquisite compositional qualities. Looking closely at the figures, the images show the amount of pressure in their hands when they grasp each other or are touching the ground.
I reproduced the images on topographical maps of the Alaskan wilderness, which I chose based on the variety of textures and shapes that provide a “landscape” for the figures to inhabit.
Title: Rearranged World: Pacific Rim | Medium: mixed media | Dimensions: 15 x 18 x 1"
The works reference, in part, how the Earth is rearranging itself despite us.
The type trays that are the bases for many of the works in the Rearranged World series are not identical. The trays for Pacific Rim are the smallest, have fewer, larger slots and were in the worst condition as many of the metal dividers that separate the slots are loose or missing. For that reason, I created works out of them last which felt like an afterthought. They are not as visually strong as the others and the diagonals actually pin down the works rather than energizing them.
I ended up dismantling these two pieces and re-purposed the trays for another couple of works, which is the advantage of working with found objects–I can take them apart and make them into something else.
The theme for Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons) was inspired by an atlas I found at a used book sale that had particularly colorful maps with hues beyond earth standard pastels or earth tones. These maps use a bright colors to indicate changes in elevation which I arranged in impressionistic shapes of similar hue.
The title Quattro Stagioni refers both to the colors evoking the passing of the seasons and the shapes in the composition.
A reference to conflict and struggle, I used maps of expeditions and battles that played out across Europe and the Middle East during World War 1. The wrestlers, in hues representing opposing states, stand in for the warriors as the world battled over land conquered and rearranged many times over.
Rearranged World: Alaska is a mixed media installation created expressly for my fall 2010 show in Oceanside, California and consists of note-sized pieces of topographical maps of Alaska, an area of the world rich in intricate patterns carved into the landscape by nature. On each square I printed vintage drawings of strong men and wrestlers, representing humans struggle for dominance amongst each other as they conquer a new frontier.
The composition was inspired by the Rearranged World type tray works in the show, which also used grids and nested rectangles to create minimalist forms.