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All the world as seen through the lens of a crystalline polythene grid of air pockets
“Of course one always has the same theme. Everyone has her theme. She should move around in that theme.”
So claims Austrian author Thomas Bernhard. Similarly, artist Lucian Freud was reported to have said, “Everything is autobiographical, everything is a portrait, even if it’s only a chair.”
One last example, and a memorable one: Willem de Kooning, suffering from dementia at the end of his life, continued to paint in that de Kooning signatory style. Brain dysfunction be damned, his work was coming up from somewhere deeper. Or different.
Be like me. See the world through my eyes. It is an elemental aspect of an artist’s consciousness. And the edge between objective and subjective is often an invisible boundary. Can we ever see it, that line where our own proclivities end?
After all, there is a long list of behavorial biases that can alter our ability to see/understand/perceive/comprehend with clarity. Here’s just a few from Psy-Fi’s much longer list:
Ambiguity Aversion: we don’t mind risk but we hate uncertainty
Babe Ruth Effect: winning big but rarely beats winning often and small
Bias Blind Spot: we agree that everyone else is biased, but not ourselves
Confirmation Bias: we interpret evidence to support our prior beliefs and, if all else fails, we ignore evidence that contradicts it
Familiarity Effect: being familiar with something makes you favour it
Fundamental Attribution Error: we attribute success to our own skill and failure to everyone else’s lack of it
Galatea Effect: some people succeed simply because they think they should
Hindsight Bias: we’re unable to stop ourselves thinking we predicted events, even though we’re woefully bad at predicting the future
Inter-group Bias: we evaluate people within our own group more favorably than those outside of it
Introspection Illusion: we value information gleaned from introspection more than we value our actions
Sharpshooter Effect: beware experts painting targets around bullet holes
Survivorship Bias: this is an error that comes from focusing only on the examples that survive some particular situation
Titanic Effect: if it can’t sink you don’t need lifeboats
Tragedy of the Commons: we overuse common resources because it not in any individual’s interests to conserve them
During the last few months I have been tunneling deeply through a massive project. An intensity of focus has been needed to get it done, but it comes at a cost. During times like these, my ability to parse the world in general becomes impaired.
I’ve been in that place before. When I had my first child, the world outside my home ceased to exist. If you didn’t wear a diaper and weren’t sleeping in the crib in the room next door, you just didn’t get any air time. I am grateful for the remembrance—and reassurance—that normalcy does return. Eventually.
Our minds create maps of every place we go. Apparently all animals do this, not just us. And those cognitive maps are not necessarily accurate or drawn to scale. Like the iconic map of the London Tube designed in 1933 by an electrical draughtsman named Harry Beck, the best maps make a complex system comprehensible by eliminating information that isn’t essential and simplifying the schemata to mostly straight lines. Beck’s map is conceptual, not accurate, but it is the most famous and most emulated transportation map in the world.
There are emotional maps too. These are more complex charts than a transit system schemata or a topographic map of the terrain. For one thing they include the additional coordinate of time. The past is constantly linking and looping back into our present, and our memories of how things used to be are constantly being stretched taut by how those places change. The map of a life is layered, dense and highly specialized. Some friends share a layer or two, but this complex of overlays and connections ends up being a map only comprehensible to one person.
Visiting California is the inevitable return to the deep foundational grid of my personal map as well, the one formed by a childhood in the Bay Area and college years in Santa Cruz. As richly engaging as present tense California is, it is still for me just a glass floor atop the isometrics of the deep past.
I spent time with some extraordinary art and artists while I was there—Holly Downing, Ramah Commanday, Tim Rice, Jorg Schmeisser, Theodora Varnay Jones, Laura Corallo-Titus, Marsha Cottrell, Howard Hersh, Kathy Greenwald, Shelby Graham, Norman Locks. Landscapes that continue to take your breath away. Exquisite food. And of course the wedding of dear pals Sally and Meehan. I’m in a kind of sensory overload so it may take a few days for all the cognitive systems to fire up again.
I am back home in Northern California for the wedding of my beloved friend, documentarian extraordinaire Sally Rubin, with her partner Meehan Rasch.
I will also be spending time with several artist friends including Holly Downing* and Tim Rice**.
I am back on Slow Muse after October 1.
*Holly Downing, based in Sebastopol, is having a show of her paintings, drawings and mezzotints on display at Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at Cowell College, UCSC, September 30 through December 2.
George Wingate viewing “Candara” at the show in Providence (photo by Robert Hanlon)
George Wingate, artist and life long friend made a trip down from Wenham to see the show at Rhode Island College, “Acquire/Inquire.” He sent me the photograph above with these simple words:
standing before the moon.
Oh that I could evoke that haunting landscape, that I might capture some of that earthiness that is not Earth, that landscape that does not carry a drop of our DNA in its dust.
The show comes down today. This was an important exhibit for me, the first public showing of a very new and different body of work. Thank you to the wizardry and resourcefulness of curator James Montford, the accompaniment of three extraordinary women—Marcia Goodwin, Doris Weiner and Denyse Wilhelm—and the universally welcoming faculty and staff at Rhode Island College.
Here are highlights from three reviews of the show:
Barlow’s paintings are sensual…she paints handsome, crusty, glistening abstractions like Golasule, which resembles frosty white-blue ice. Others look like lichen or, in the case of Gola, a turquoise and milky white tropical tide pool.
The Boston Phoenix
The paintings of Deborah Barlow are ethereal and light, mixing multiple forms of paint and technique. While the other artists focused on a search and discovery form of style, Barlow is more scientific and alchemic.
Deborah Barlow is represented by a series of lushly luminous abstractions that look a bit like Minimalist cloudscapes. (Look long enough and you may feel like you’re floating inside the world’s most tasteful lava lamp.)
Bill Van Siclen
The Providence Journal
I am always grateful for fresh words that help describe a new body of work. “Standing before the moon” feels good, as do a few other words that came from these writers—“handsome,” “crusty,” “glistening,” “scientific,” “alchemic.” Even the lava lamp reference is growing on me after my very with it daughter gave it a thumbs up.
To see more images from the show, click here.
Sharing experiences from travels is a bit like sharing dreams: The iconography and narrative are personal and not well suited for public discourse. So other than sharing the rudimentaries, my report on my time in India will be succinct.
A phrase or two from Mira Schor‘s juicy and very personal book, A Decade of Negative Thinking, captures much of what I am feeling now that I am back home: “I’ve wished that I could give my students and myself the gift of time, time to work or not work in the studio, and, more importantly, to forget about ART; time to just take a walk…”
That is what this trip to southern India was for me: time away from the studio, a hiatus in thinking about art making and the world we have created around that rarefied activity. Yes I took 2600 photographs which serve as a kind of quick capture sketchbook/scrapbook. But making art was not on my mind at all. In a culture that old and that confoundingly complex, stepping away from my life was a much better way to offer up an open, fertile, receptive spirit. The resonance is outside of language and still echoing.
The heart loves what it loves, and mine keeps coming back to India. So how grateful I am that after four years I am returning again.
I could try to explain my attraction but that seems unnecessary given the land’s long history of beguiling, enchanting and mystifying its guests. This quote by Apollonius of Tyana dates back before the Common Era and yet it could have been written by any of us today: “In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything, but possessed by nothing.”
This trip we are spending all our time in the South. Our intention is to veer, explore and wander as far from beaten paths as we can.
I will be back here after March 27th.
Here are a few shots from last night’s opening for Inquire/Acquire* at the Bannister Gallery. Kudos to curator James Montford for bringing cohesion to four very different bodies of work. And thanks to all those who braved the snow in Boston (just as we were beginning to think we’d slide past this winter without any) to drive to Providence. Great evening all ’round.
March 1- 29, 2012
Rhode Island College
600 Mt Pleasant Ave
Providence, RI 02908
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 12 to 8pm
I will be showing my latest body of work at an upcoming exhibition at Rhode Island College next month. I am looking forward to seeing these pieces outside of my studio and all the visual clutter that comes with it. The shift in seeing can sometimes be surprisingly revelatory. I hope it helps me deepen my understanding of the new territory I am exploring.
That’s the show part of the heading. The sojourn part starts tonight when I head to England. I’ll spend time in the Lakes as well as in London.
I am still perplexed by how deeply I am affected by a change in venue, something that works on others just as powerfully as it does on me. In a recent interview with the writer John Logan (his play, Red, is reviewed here), he describes how he travels to Death Valley every year by himself, going at the height of the summer so he can “scorch everything away. It cleanses the palate of my imagination. Writing is a hard job and it takes a lot out of you, so you need to take the time to replenish it.’’
England is no Death Valley. But the verdant green and the abundance of ancient sites (Britain has more than 1000 stone circles alone) seep in me and do some quiet rewiring of my insides. It is one of my ways of cleansing the palate of imagination. The desert can bring a powerful reset as well, but it works on me in a very different manner. I long for regular exposure to both.
I will be back to Slow Muse on February 22.
March 1- 29, 2012
Artist reception: March 1, 5-8pm
Rhode Island College
600 Mt Pleasant Ave
Providence, RI 02908
ACQUIRE/INQUIRE: A GROUP EXHIBITION
To inquire—to engage in the intentional act of discovery—is the vital cord that connects the work of Deborah Barlow, Marcia Goodwin, Doris Weiner, and Denyse Wilhelm.
The objects, books, and memories they have acquired are the results of lives lived in purposeful inquiry, provoking and sustaining their work. Walk into any one of their studios and see possessions that are intensely personal: a Chinese wedding basket, peridot tinted vintage glass, Javanese puppets, or shards of pottery. In the work of these four artists, elements of nature, culture, mysticism, choreography, and music are transformed into visual ideographs that are dimensional, vibrant, ambient, and atmospheric.
This exhibition is curated by James Montford, director of Bannister Gallery.