Aug 112017

Josh DormanJosh Dorman in his NYC studio


I have placed there a little door opening on to the mysterious.
I have made stories.

—Odilon Redon

I  read Josh Dorman’s works like a Mary Ruefle essay. See how she writes about a revelation she had and the connections it revealed for her in her essay “Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World:”  “I was reading the dictionary, where I came upon the meaning of the word speculum: 1) an instrument inserted into a body passage for inspection; 2) an ancient mirror; 3) a medieval compendium of all knowledge; 4) a drawing showing the relative position of all the planets; and 5) a patch of color on the secondary wings of most ducks and some other birds.” Ruefle asserts, “there can be discoveries, connections… that explode the day and one’s heart and the long years that have led to the moment.”

Just so, artist Josh Dorman discovers a scrap, a tidbit, a piece of tinder, something recognizable (or not) and turns and turns it in his hand or mind appropriating it in his collage/multi-medium works, intuitively painting, drawing, layering, until it becomes more, becomes Other. The connections in his mind are revealed to him and/or us — or not; the lush, deep labyrinths open to some Home, or swallow us entirely blissfully lost.

Mary Kathryn Jablonski (MKJ): I’m very interested in how a piece begins for you. Do images you find suggest a narrative? Do you collect some images for use in collage based on the intrigue or beauty they hold for you alone? Do some images, which to the outsider might seem to have nothing in common, beg to be grouped with other images? I’m picturing files upon files named for various subjects in your studio, not unlike in collage artist Michael Oatman’s vast studio space! Tell us some of your sources. I’m most familiar with your paintings on antique maps, but you seem to be moving away from these a bit.

Camel CliffsCamel Cliffs – ink, acrylic, antique paper on panel, 12 x 14 inches, 2009

Josh Dorman (JD): I’m first struck by your mention of Oatman’s vast studio space. Picture my studio as more of a small cave packed with collections and piles of moldering detritus. Overflowing shelves filled with hundreds of antique books and yellowing paper: catalogs, diagrams, ledger books, topographical maps, player piano scrolls, but mostly textbooks. I use only printed materials from the pre-photography era: 1820s-1950s. They’re categorized by subject: Engineering, Biology, Botany, Architecture, Ornamentation, Cellular Structure, Human Anatomy, Geology, Geography, etc. It’s an obsession.

I still can’t resist when I stumble across a crusty tome at a yard sale. It’s not that the items are valuable, but that they contain images made by hand and knowledge that is outdated. Last summer I found a hardware catalog that’s eight inches thick, bound with rusty metal shackles. I’ve been mining images from it all year. It moves me that each hammer, hinge and screw was rendered and printed so carefully and beautifully by an artist whose name we’ll never know. I see it as part of my mission to give these drawings a new life.

Only once did I hire an assistant for a month to cut out collage bits from my books. Though those categorized clippings served me well, my process now is more organic, and I usually cut out images as I go. I have no set system for creating a painting (to be honest, I’m skeptical of art that arises out of preconception).

A piece for me can take several paths. As you mentioned, sometimes the beauty of an image can call out to me and I’ll build a painting around it. A good example of this is “A Knight Errant,” where the hardware bits I mentioned were the inspiration. In a clear case of pareidolia, I formed bodies around the faces I saw in the hardware. These then interacted with pieces cut from a 1790s Italian architecture book, and finally, reminding me of a childlike fantasy/delusion, I inserted a quixotic mounted rider.

Knight ErrantKnight Errant – ink, acrylic, antique paper on panel,
16 x 16 inches, 2014

I work in a subconscious state. A narrative may assert itself, but more often, multiple narratives and connections emerge. You guessed right when you asked about images that beg to be grouped together. It’s almost as if they’re whispering when the pages turn. It may come from my formalist training or it may be much deeper rooted, but I feel the need to connect forms from different areas of existence. A birdcage and a rib cage. A radiolarian and a diagram of a galaxy. Flower petals and fish scales. Tree branches, nerves, and an aerial map of a river. It’s obviously about shifting scale wildly from inch to inch within the painting. I think the reason I’m a visual artist is because it sounds absurdly simplistic to say in words that all things are connected.

As I write this, it occurs to me that most of my closest friends are poets and novelists, who can do this with words. I recently did a large commissioned version of “The Tower of Babel” for the writer Michael Chabon. He’s a “maximalist” novelist who takes dozens of tangent paths and generates stories within stories. I’m often inspired by writers: Italo Calvino, Richard Brautigan, and Li-Young Lee. I’m drawn to work that suggests rather than prescribes. I’d say the same about my art heroes: Klee, Redon, Turner, Pinkham Ryder, Brueghel.

BabelTower of Babel (for Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman) – ink, acrylic, antique paper on panel, 48 x 38 inches, 2016

MKJ: Oh, make no mistake, your studio still sounds a lot like Oatman’s in many ways, believe it or not, as does your sensibility regarding preserving the past. Although I cannot speak for him, I don’t think he’d mind me saying that. And his studio may have been vast, but that does not mean it was not also cave-like and jam-packed, sorted obsessively, floor to ceiling. I love what you’ve just said about these artists and writers, especially since you’ve included one of my favorite poets. I do see what you mean about generating stories within stories. Like Mary Ruefle, Li-Young Lee is a wonderful example of one who makes remarkable, unique associations. You’ve mentioned to me that you titled a solo exhibition of your work in London The Missing Pages of the Sea, a phrase found in the first few lines of his poem “Pillow,” which has superb examples of just such associations.

Li-Young Lee is also a perfect example of a poet for us to compare with you because often, like Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s, his poems circle back on themselves over and over as they are woven, or as they unravel in deep meditation, just as I feel your artwork does in some way. And his poems at times are inexorably linked. Labyrinthine, they form an intricate network of passages that could lead only to the next poem or story, with no other possible exit. Take a look at “Words for Worry” and “Little Father,” printed consecutively in Book of My Nights. I feel this sensation too in some of your works, both within them, and when seeing them together. Lee also judiciously and poignantly uses the Question in his poems, as I feel you do in your works, Josh, addressing both yourself and the viewer.

I imagine that once a work starts going for you it takes on a force of its own. Do you find this to be true — that what you had in mind for a piece or a group of images can end up being far from the direction in which the piece eventually leads you? Tell us about some of the detours your work has taken you on. In this way, what has the act of making art taught you or revealed to you? What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?

JD: In the 90s, I would begin a painting by gluing down topographic maps and letting the swirling lines guide my drawing and collaging. More often now, my works (especially the larger panels) begin with a compositional sketch, and maps are only used tangentially. In fact, many recent panels begin with a base layer of player piano scroll paper. This provides a tone, a history, and beautiful perforations that generate a rhythmic structure. I then sketch forms quickly and lightly in charcoal and begin the layering of paint and collage. I work on five to 10 paintings simultaneously. Some emerge in a matter of days; others can take a year or more.

If any element of a painting happens too easily, I’m skeptical, and I usually destroy it. Part of the reason I use collage is to remove my hand from the process. For the same reason, you’ll see areas in most of my paintings where I’ve rested living plants or metal gears and wires, poured ink and allowed it to evaporate. These “stain/stencils” for me, feel like a natural phenomenon, outside of my self. I’m not saying that I give over to Dadaist chance in my work. I need composition and structure. But within that initial framework, it’s about endless improvisation.

Night ApparitionsNight Apparitions – ink, acrylic, antique paper on panel,
38 x 48 inches, 2017

Looking at one recent piece called “Night Apparitions” might illuminate a bit about my process. This might sound laughable, but I consider this a minimalist work for me, since I managed to pare it down to a reduced palette and space. It began with a ream of rice paper I purchased on a trip to Taiwan. In this case, I broke my own “rule” by using non-antique paper. Since the paper was lightly gridded or lined for calligraphy practice, I cut it into varying sized rectangles and soaked them in India ink of different densities. My initial sketch had two essential structures: the central mountain form and the halo surrounded by a dark border. I expected multiple mountainscapes and horizon lines to emerge, but in this case, the gradation of light to dark from the center kept insisting itself until the end. As soon as I’d add a new landscape element, I’d wipe it out with the light or dark. In recent years, I’ve been trying to avoid imagery (animal, vegetable, machine) that identifies as only one thing. So, each hovering entity is a conglomeration – a hybrid form. Only one (located at 11 o’clock) contains human-made forms, and there’s only a hint of architecture in the contour of the mountain. I’m always aware of the disconnection we humans imagine and reinforce between ourselves and other living things.

Here, I could go off on a lengthy tangent about the election, and the fear, anger and ultimate despair I felt while making this piece. That’s all in there, and that may be why the painting is so dark. But again, I’m not interested in artwork that illustrates or prescribes meaning. I’m interested in what each viewer will bring to the piece.

There are creatures that are buried under the pink haze or in the dark black. Things that aren’t visible to the viewer are still crucial to the evolution of a piece. Some detours and quirks — I can say that the seashell mountaintop came late to eliminate a silhouette effect. The “whole” birds also remained at the bottom, to ground the piece and further call the reality into question (birds should fly). In the end, as with most of my work, I suppose my goal is to generate a feeling of joyful apocalypse. My dreams do influence my work deeply, but I shy away from association with Surrealism, most of which I view as too pat and literal.

It’s a never-ending cycle, trying to understand the world, art, my own process. In the same way that I don’t like to interpret dreams, I also shun too much breakdown of my work. I need to know just enough to guide me, but not too much to remove the mystery. As Georges Braque said, “The only thing of value in art is that which cannot be explained.” As for your question about what I’d be doing if not this, I’ve always been fascinated by archaeology and I began college as a psychology major, but I quickly realized that it was not for me. Frankly, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

MKJ: I appreciate that you say you’ve been trying to avoid imagery that identifies as only one thing. I’ve always admired this quality in the written word as well: poetry whose lines slant in both directions, tying them to the previous or following line, which can happen with well-thought-out enjambment and punctuation (or lack thereof). And when you say you value things that aren’t visible to the viewer, which are still crucial to the evolution of a piece, I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps these are the most important aspects of a creative work.

Most viewers expect your collage pieces to be two-dimensional surfaces, yet in your new works you are exploring depth as well, carving pockets into panels and pouring in resin, at times in pools up to two inches deep with a watery shine difficult to reproduce in photographs. What inspired this sculptural necessity? Do you see it going further?

Welcome MachineWelcome to the Machine II – ink, acrylic, antique paper on panel, with resin, 12 x 12 inches, 2017

JD: The poured resin layering is yet another manifestation of my own rule-breaking. While I have never been drawn to making sculpture, I’m intrigued by creating illusions of depth, and in this case, tricking the viewer with a bit of tangible depth.

I’ve found in my artistic life that a medium or subject will present itself, and only years later will it find it’s proper home in the work. It was this way with the topographical maps, which lingered in my studio for five years before I dared draw on them, and it was this way with the clear resin, which I tried out twenty years ago and failed. I’ll admit that Fred Tomaselli, with his resin-embedded pills and leaves left me daunted. I admire his work, but I’m after something different. In fact, just as with collaging gorgeously rendered engravings, one runs the risk of gimmickry with resin. Pour this glossy stuff on a child’s drawing or a newspaper page and suddenly it looks luscious. I’m still experimenting with it, but it’s incredibly exciting. I’d fallen into a rut for a year or so, and creating these space pockets is reinvigorating me. It has reminded me that play is crucial. Ha! Perhaps, I can also credit Trump with causing me to seek new territory. I suspect many artists right now are on fire, making protest statements or constructing even richer worlds to escape to.

MKJ: Yes, at a time when we could all use, as Mary Ruefle says, some Sign of Order in the World, we’ll leave that struggle in the category of more things that aren’t visible to the viewer.

Your paintings are really multi-medium works that include collage, painting and drawing (and as we’ve said, now sculptural processes as well). How do these pieces differ in your mind from the black and white drawings that you make, which to me seem very fluid and in some mystical way reminiscent of William Blake.

WheelsWheels – graphite with antique collage elements, 10 x 20 inches, 2017

JD: The graphite drawings are almost a form of meditation for me. In making them, I eliminate all questions of medium, color, size, and layering. Even composition and subject matter disappear. I’d never encourage a drawing student to do this, but these horizontally oriented works emerge from the lower left and move eastward, with no sketch or outline. I love the traveling journey aspect of Chinese and Japanese scrolls. For me, it’s a mysterious process and not unlike a physical journey. I rub the pencil until shapes and images start to reveal themselves. They are not sketches for the paintings. They exist on their own.

MKJ: I am delighted to learn about this drawing process! And now I see them as even more riveting. I hope you do not find this in any way a diminishment of your collages/paintings, but the drawings may be your works I favor most. They are magical to me and unfold or reveal themselves, to this viewer at least, in perhaps the same mysterious ways in which they were created, which I find marvelous and complex.

Although it took place awhile ago now, I do want to mention that I also found your project for the Memory Bridge Foundation, which “maps” the internal geographies and memories of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, moving and inspirational. Describe how this project has changed you. Tell us how memory plays a role in your work, if in fact you find that it does.

JD: The Memory Bridge project influenced me in ways I didn’t understand at the time. The obvious answer is that the old paper I use has it’s own memory: it’s physically from another time and place. The images I use were created in a world without the ubiquitous photograph, let alone computers and the thousands of images we’re barraged with daily. I’d like my work to feel like it’s not of this time and place.

When I was commissioned to create the Memory Bridge portraits, I listened and sketched as six people with dementia were interviewed. I could see bits of memory coming and going, interweaving with the present, imagination, and chaos. Later, back in my studio with my notes, while making a “portrait” of one particularly unreachable woman, I found myself in a mental state not unlike hers. It was disturbing and liberating. I sat on the floor with my canvas and piles of books and papers. I began reaching for images in a frenzy of free association, pasting them down and drawing on top. This state of unknowing is where I try to be now when I work.

Thelma Memory BridgeThelma, Memory Bridge portrait – ink, acrylic, antique paper on panel, 34 x 42 inches, 2006

We can never be certain that we are communicating on a common wavelength with anyone else. I trust in that lack of tangibility and certainty. If people ask me what my paintings are about, I stumble. I know they are not about nothing… I know, in fact, that they are utterly specific. But some people will embrace the ambiguity within the specificity, and others will reject the work, needing a concrete meaning and resolution I can’t provide.

Josh Dorman was born in Baltimore, MD and lives and works in New York, NY. He received his MFA from Queens College, Flushing, NY and his BA from Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY. Josh has been the recipient of numerous residencies and fellowships including Yaddo, Art Omi, and the Millay Colony. He has been a visiting artist and lecturer at numerous institutions including most recently Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY and Mass Art Graduate MFA Program, Boston, MA. His work is held in numerous collections across the country and he has exhibited nationally and internationally. In 2014, a collaboration of seven animations he made with composer Anna Clyne, titled “The Violin,” was released on DVD. Currently, Josh is represented by Ryan Lee Gallery in New York City, Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Seattle, and John Martin Gallery in London.


Mary Kathryn Jablonski
A gallerist in Saratoga Springs for over 15 years, visual artist and poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski is now an administrative director in holistic healthcare. She is author of the chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, and her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals including the Beloit Poetry Journal, Blueline, Home Planet News, Salmagundi, and Slipstream, among others. Her artwork has been widely exhibited throughout the Northeast and is held in private and public collections.


Jul 122017

Adam Daily


Everything is expressed through relationship. Colour can exist only through other colours, dimension through other dimensions, position through other positions that oppose them. That is why I regard relationship as the principal thing.
— Piet Mondrian


Artist Adam Daily works in photography, digital graphics, collage, printmaking and painting. You would not know this to look at his works, however, as much of the process of his creation goes on behind the scenes. Adam defies tradition with computer techniques that are painterly, playful and organic, and painting techniques that hide the human hand via mechanized perfection. This lends a great deal of mystery and intrigue to the finished works. His methodology is rigorous, his performance, exacting.

—Mary Kathryn Jablonski


April ink on synthetic paper 44 x 60in 2008April – ink on synthetic paper, 44×60 inches, 2008

Mary Kathryn Jablonski (MKJ): There is a series of your older works that I just can’t get out of my head. I am in love with these black and white invented “landscapes” that I consider monotypes, which may in fact not be prints at all, since I recall the surfaces as so mysterious, I couldn’t pin them down at the time. And what I’m really interested to know is how these works relate to your current boldly colored large-scale paintings, which seem quite different.

Adam Daily (AD): I think first of all that the relationship between this body of work that I’m making now and my older body of work is about organized systems. My current work begins as a drawing of a library of shapes, and it all happens digitally. Everything happens inside Adobe Illustrator. I will build, say, 10 different shapes, and every shape will be in the same isometric perspective and structure, and every shape fits on the same grid. I then take each shape and produce it in four to eight different colors. So that gives me a grid of shapes to work with. I will have say, five different shapes in five different colors. That grid I then use to begin finding both spatial and color relationships between individual forms.

Some of the shapes I use are simple; some are complex. Because they generally all follow the same structure, what I do, through changes in layering and height and location on the x/y axis, is explore the possibilities of these individual units, linking them to create larger units, and I find that space occasionally flattens or opens depending upon the way colors or shapes relate to one another.

M4 acrylic on pvc 48 x 48 in 2013M4 – acrylic on PVC, 48×48 inches, 2013

I’ve made a system for developing an image, so for my current paintings, it can be an intense process of drawing, editing, revising and producing different versions of these works. That process is very similar to the process of the black and white images I was making earlier. With them, I was building a library of photographs. So instead of an abstract shape, I would take my original photographs of many objects and manipulate them; sometimes to the point where the object turned into something completely different and unrecognizable; sometimes I would simply adjust the contrast or scale. I would then take these photographic pieces, cut them up and reassemble them – also digitally – to create a composite image out of the original images. Through that process I was trying to think of a place I hadn’t been, and I didn’t have a reference image of that place. So I was trying to build, to imagine, an unknown place from images sourced from my actual surroundings. In this way, both processes utilize this idea of building a library, then manipulating those images to form a composition.

MKJ: Clearly in both cases it’s a collage process and a digital process, but it’s also painterly and printmakerly in some ways as well, right? The black and white works are treated eventually like monotypes, and in the paintings, you’re transferring your image onto the painting surface, and then you almost approach silkscreen or multi-block woodcut techniques, with the application of one color at a time, true?

M5 acrylic on pvc 48 x 48in 2013M5 – acrylic on PVC, 48×48 inches, 2013

AD: Right. So after I’ve digitally produced the drawing for my painting, I work on a sheet of Sintra® PVC Foam Board, which is bright white plastic that has a very consistent smooth finish. It doesn’t need to be primed and it’s a very bright white. I then transfer my drawing onto the plastic simply using a ruler and very sharp pencil to define the edges of the form, and then I do work applying one color at a time. What I do is say, “Okay, let me find all of the areas that will be magenta,” and map those out. One of the most interesting ways that these paintings work, for me, is when there’s a really high degree of precision, so that you get a very interesting color interaction where colors are coming together.

I tape off the areas to be painted, and then I use a small automotive spray gun with translucent or transparent acrylic paints. In order to get the color to be as brilliant as possible, I have to apply a consistent thickness across the painting, so that it appears to be an opaque, solid color, when in reality it’s just a consistent film over a sheet of white. What this means is that the light will travel through the paint, bounce off the white, come back and be intensely luminous.

In this way, it’s not like a traditional painting process at all. There’s no brush involved, no mixing of paint colors on the surface of the painting. I specifically avoid overlapping any color with another color to prevent interference. The colors can touch each other, but not overlap, so there’s no color mixing, which would reduce the brilliance of some of the pigments.

Each shape, as I design it, will have three or more tonalities on it. This idea of isometric perspective and the light falling on the shape gives me these three different tones, and those are generally tints of the original pigment.

M6 acrylic on pvc 48 x 48in 2013M6 – acrylic on PVC, 48×48 inches, 2013

One of the things I discovered over time is that for me, making compositional decisions during the painting process hinders my outcome, and making all my compositional decisions beforehand in the digital space allows me to then focus on the manufacturing process, so that the image comes out the way I want it to.

MKJ: What if there’s an error during the manufacture of an 8′ x 8′ painting? Are there any changes during the painting process, or would this be cause to discard a piece and start over?

AD: Sometimes, obviously, when you make something you have a mistake, and I have ways of fixing things. When I make an error, it doesn’t change the course of the image. I am not making spur-of-the-moment decisions. Decisions made during the painting process are entirely color decisions, not compositional. When I make the drawing there are general ideas about color; what color is going to go where. Generally. But specific color is not decided until I mix the pigment. I have systems that I use in order to make this work. An order of events has to be followed.

MKJ: You’ve called it “methodical, intentional, mechanical.”

AD: And frequently when people see the paintings, they think that the paint is actually pieces of vinyl (or some other material) that have been cut out with a knife and put down. Although taping off a shape and painting it a color is not a new idea and in many ways is not a very interesting idea, these particular materials and this particular way of applying it does leave some doubt as to the manufacturing process.

MKJ: Yes, doubt… or intrigue!

AD: Right. And in all of my works, in the black and white works as well, I’m interested in a piece that is ambiguous as to its manufacture. In many ways, this is not a painting process. I’ve found that one of the hardest things as a painter, and one of the things that painters do most is make decisions during the painting process. I find that having to make technical, material, compositional and color decisions all at the same time is problematic for me. And that I always inevitably end up building systems for myself.

MKJ: It’s almost mathematical or musical in its devices.

AD: Yes, right. It is. And the compositional process, because I do it on the computer, is so fluid, playful and free, there’s never a material consequence for a mistake. You don’t have to wipe anything off or clean your hands or anything. You can just play for hours upon hours with shapes, and start to find harmonies in shapes and little interactions between forms that spark your imagination, and that gets very exciting. That ability to separate composition from production allows for more complex compositions and a much more refined production process.

MKJ: Let’s go back to the black and white works vis-à-vis this compositional process and production process. There is some manipulation after the printing, just as with a monotype plate.

May ink on synthetic paper 44 x 60in 2008May – ink on synthetic paper, 44×60 inches, 2008

AD: Exactly. This is one of the major differences between the black and white and the color work. Those pieces begin, as I said, with photographs that I manipulate, and I build a composition in Photoshop in this case. And with these, the digital version is very crude; the intersection between objects and the lighting is crude. It does not appear as though I’m building a seamless imaginary land. It’s very rough. I make a print on synthetic paper, basically a sheet of plastic, using an ink jet printer. The paper is very smooth, and again bright white. The print comes out wet. The image can be washed off. It can be scraped, blotted, added to with more ink. And I use a variety of tools — eraser, Q-tip, makeup sponges — to manipulate an image that was crude in the digital and refine it in the physical.

One of the other things that happens is that when an ink jet printer puts down droplets, they typically absorb into the paper with a bit of dot-gain, which means the dots get bigger. In the case of the synthetic paper, because the ink doesn’t absorb, if you get the dots too close together, they form a puddle that’s very, very dark. So what is 80 percent black in the digital version is 100 percent black in the physical version. This results in a higher contrast image, because you’re taking the blacks and you’re darkening them. But then, additionally, you get interesting photographic effects in the lighter gray tonalities. You can see subtle tonal changes, something that an ink jet printer can produce extremely effectively, again, without evidence of a human interaction.

So the same questions arise: What would happen if you produced this in graphite? If you made it as a litho, what would happen? How do those different processes reveal themselves in the finished product, and what is the effect of seeing that process on your interpretation of the image? I like to build a process that is elusive in a way to allow the work to be just about the image.

October ink on synthetic paper 44 x 60in 2008October – ink on synthetic paper, 44×60 inches, 2008

The black and white images and the large colorful paintings are not only similar in process; they are both about landscape. In the large color paintings, you are not looking into the landscape. In these pictures, they don’t give the illusion of depth, because of the isometric perspective. They actually tilt inward into the space of the viewer, especially the larger paintings, where the scale of the objects can be as big or bigger than you are, so they interject themselves into the landscape. The smaller pictures become almost their own internal space because they are smaller than you, but also because of the layering of the shapes. You can travel in the picture – not to a horizon line, not to a vanishing point, but sort of in and out of the forms in the picture. So in that way it is “landscape.” They become a place, but that place sometimes becomes less recognizable than the place could be in the black and white works. The black and white work is “our” world; the place in the geometric works is a mathematical world, an imagined color space.

Adam Daily is a New York-based artist, designer, and printmaker. He combines digital and handmade processes to create a variety of work. His current body of work explores systems and organizational structures through geometric spatial interactions and dynamic color relationships. His paintings have been exhibited widely in both group and solo exhibitions. In 2011, he was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship in Digital/Electronic Arts. He has had solo exhibitions at Salem Art Works in Salem, NY; Schafer Landing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and The Foundry for Art and Design in Cohoes, NY. He recently designed and installed a new large-scale mural for the City of New Rochelle, NY.


A gallerist in Saratoga Springs for over 15 years, visual artist and poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski is now an administrative director in holistic healthcare. She is author of the chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, and her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals including the Beloit Poetry JournalBluelineHome Planet NewsSalmagundi, and Slipstream, among others. Her artwork has been widely exhibited throughout the Northeast and is held in private and public collections.


Jul 022017

John Hampshire photo by Elana GehanJohn Hampshire, photo by Elana Gehan


Part of the joy of looking at art is getting in sync in some ways with the decision-making process that the artist used and the record that’s
embedded in the work.

— Chuck Close

John Hampshire employs and embodies labyrinths: he cloaks a mathematician inside an introvert, inside a college professor. He is best known for elaborate portrait drawings that disintegrate upon close inspection into paths of abstract lines that never overlap, a seeming chaos of doodles.

It could be argued that some writers, too, internalize within one body such a complex spirit, inquisitive and process-driven, constantly in motion, and their journals become great art, even when they feel like they are “not creating.” Biographer Diane Middlebrook reveals this phenomenon in the work of Sylvia Plath and refers to Plath’s journals as “the hand drawing the hand” (think M.C. Escher), claiming that, “Her writing itself enacts the process by which writing comes to be.”

So it is in the work of John Hampshire: the drawing enacts the process by which drawing comes to be. His drawings and paintings begin with what would seem random mark-making, only to evolve and congeal into recognizable imagery. We are left with the entire record before us, since Hampshire’s work gels at a distance, but dissolves when viewed up close. I’ve asked him a series of questions that led to these writings. We chose to remove the text of the questions, so that in the manner of his labyrinthine work, in the grand design, the hand alone could draw the hand.

— Mary Kathryn Jablonski

In the mid-1990s I started drawing self-portraits, looking in the mirror, using pen and a language of mark-making and symbols to construct the images. These consisted of things like teardrops, arrows, molecular structures, etc. I wanted these things to remain legible or visible in the finished drawing, and so the idea of not crossing any lines developed out of this concern. Over time, as the drawings became more resolved or detailed, the interest in the symbols fell by the wayside but the structure of not crossing any lines became integral to the drawing process; creating impediments to slow down the process and keep me engaged, a circuitous route to making something. While this process formally started in my work in the mid 90s it is an activity that occurred in my notebooks and doodles in high school.

Self-portrait, acrylic on panel, 11x14, 2013Self-portrait, acrylic on panel, 11″ x 14″, 2013

It’s natural for me to paint the people around me. Most of my subjects tend to be people I know, some more casually, some more intensely, than others. I do occasionally work from images of people I do not know, but this is rare. My consciousness or awareness of these people, their natures, or my relationship to them may or may not influence the work. I can’t help but think that it does, but it is not something that I think about when I am working. Formal issues of color and mark and abstraction and representation are the things that I tend to think more consciously about when I’m working. That’s not to say that the results do not have qualities beyond these concerns.

Gina, acrylic on panel, 11x14, 2014Gina, acrylic on panel, 11″ x 14″, 2014

The labyrinth drawings typically are in black and white, as the introduction of color makes them much more complicated. The paintings vacillate between full bombastic colors or subdued earthy colors, or are completely restricted to grays. I usually aim for full color with the portrait paintings, but after doing several of those and needing relief, I resort to black and white.

Lauren, acrylic on panel, 11x14, 2015Lauren, acrylic on panel, 11″ x 14″, 2015

I started the paintings around the same time as the drawings, in the mid 90s, and the sensibilities that directed the drawings related very much to the sensibilities that directed the paintings. Painting is very much about physicality and layering and those are not things I was very successful at denying, hence the continuing of layering marks of color over one another. The paint marks themselves are more or less responsive to information derived from the subject matter that I’m looking at, whether a person in front of me, my reflection in the mirror, or a photograph. In all cases I am pulling vague and then subsequently more specific information from my interaction with the subject matter. My aim, in the drawings and paintings, is that the language of mark or line remain present and visible and that the process of the making of the drawing or painting is readily apparent or accessible to the viewer. The tension between both mark and image simultaneously asserting themselves is something I like to have in the work. I’m an abstract painter unwilling to let go of the primal desire for representation.

Inherent Strings attached, acrylic and string on panel, 11x14, 2015Inherent Strings attached, acrylic, string on panel, 11″ x 14″, 2015

The painting itself (or in some cases drawing) usually determines the degree of resolution that occurs in the work. I find that the recognizability of the human face allows for an immense amount of abstraction to occur while retaining the visual implication of a face. The degree of resolution that the painted image brings is determined by the painting and whether it’s working or not. I keep painting until I feel the work is resolved; sometimes this requires more and sometimes less resolution in an image.

The paintings more recently have also incorporated clear medium between layers of paint, physically separating the paint strokes from each other, and playing up the three-dimensional quality of painting. In some cases I’ve even incorporated string or other objects in the clear medium. This goes along with the nature of the way I handle paint in these works; less like manipulated liquid material. The marks retain themselves and their individual identities more like the tesserae used to make mosaics.

Labyrinth 308, ink on door, 32x80, 2014Labyrinth 308, ink on door, 32″ x 80″, 2014

Although I have made some very large portraits, most are somewhat conservative in scale, and it is the landscapes that tend to be more monumental. My interest is in the sublime power of nature, but more tangibly, I am interested in the dichotomy between the ephemeral qualities of weather or fire or clouds and the tangible physicality of the language of mark-making or lines that are used to build these images. While the portraits are typically of people I know based on photos I take, the landscape references are an amalgam of my own photos, appropriated imagery and imagined passages. The complexity of landscapes and weather, the deeper sense of space contrasting the surface of the drawing and the greater compositional possibilities are all attractive traits for me with the landscapes.

Labyrinth 338, ink on door, 24x80, 2015Labyrinth 338, ink on door, 24″ x 80″, 2015

Lately, particularly with the landscapes, I’ll start with some long lines that will break up the picture plane, which tends to be on prepared hollow core doors these days, and I’ll have very little, if any, anticipation of what particular image will develop. As I go along I start to select an image and start to build that, and then I’ll add other imagery to the drawing, working from both the photo references as well as imagination to put these disjointed images together. Intuition plays a major role in decision-making, and most thinking is retrospective rather than anticipatory with the work.

Labyrinth 311, ink on door, 32x80, 2015Labyrinth 311, ink on door, 32″ x 80″, 2015

I have always had an interest in math and physics, and I was a math minor in undergraduate school. I see a relationship between these pursuits and interests and those of my current work and working methods. There are simultaneous dichotomies in my work: abstraction versus representation; solid tangible marks describing soft ephemeral transitions of light in an atmosphere or form; abstract expressionist versus Renaissance ideas about pictorial space or depicting form; surface versus image. These dichotomies make me think of some of the juxtapositions or seeming incongruities in physics, such as those between the harmonious Einsteinian relativity and anti-intuition of quantum mechanics; or the duality of light, having qualities of both waves and particles.

The mystery of painting seems more alive than ever with its growing history, and physics is no different. The more we know, the more perplexing the universe seems: the simultaneity of Schrodinger’s cat in a box, being both alive and dead until you open the box. The abstraction of these ideas to a philosophical level seems easily transferred to image-making, color theory and optics. With painting, I’m not exactly sure when the box is open, or if it ever is. Things really remain undefined until the viewer experiences the work; even then ambiguities persist.

—John Hampshire

John Hampshire is an Associate Professor of Studio Art at SUNY Adirondack and has had numerous solo and group exhibitions nationally. He is the recipient of many honors and awards, including most recently a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creativity, a NYFA fellowship grant, and a Purchase Award from the Hyde Museum.

John’s 2015 video interview with AHA! A House for the Arts can be seen on YouTube.

xMary Kathryn Jablonski
A gallerist in Saratoga Springs for over 15 years, visual artist and poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski is now an administrative director in holistic healthcare. She is author of the chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, and her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals including the Beloit Poetry Journal, Blueline, Home Planet News, Salmagundi, and Slipstream, among others. Her artwork has been widely exhibited throughout the Northeast and is held in private and public collections.


Jun 102017

DeGroot 8. ZombieZombie – watercolor on paper, 24″ x 18″, 2015


As an artist I have been focusing on painting trees and their cast-off limbs, i.e. sticks, for many years.

Trees are completely individual. They are adapters and survivors; each one is unique, and I believe that is something most people don’t think about. We are taught to look at trees based on a stereotype; the image of a perfectly pruned tree is the one most people have in their heads, balanced and symmetrical. But in nature those rarely exist. Trees grow to survive, they adapt to their given environment, growing into strange shapes, producing oddly shaped limbs, becoming contortionists to get to sunlight, and bowing to the will of other larger trees. They grow in context to each other and their neighbors, adapting as best they can to the situation they find themselves in.


DeGroot 1. DowserDowser – watercolor on paper,  24″ x 18″, 2015


DeGroot 2. For FortunyFor Fortuny – watercolor on paper, 24″ x 18″, 2015


While my artwork has always been based on a traditional observation process, the final appearance of the objects in my paintings is grounded in contemporary ideas and concerns and by my own quirky interpretation of the objects’ personalities. These objects allow me to explore my interests in surrealism (especially the Chicago artists collective The Hairy Who) and abstraction along with pursuing the pure physical pleasure of painting.


DeGroot 3. La De DaLa De Da – watercolor on paper, 50″x 40″, 2016


DeGroot 7. White BirchWhite Birch – watercolor on paper, 24″ x 18″, 2015


My current pieces have developed from my compulsive observation of the trees in my “neighborhood” in upstate New York. I am always looking for new trees. I find my subjects by the side of the road or on hiking trails in nature preserves. Often I will ask for permission to cut down a tree on someone’s property after lusting after it for some time.


DeGroot 5. Menage A TroisMenage A Trois – watercolor on paper, 7′ x 4′, 2016


The last few trees (7′ long) that I have brought back to my studio have reminded me of Las Vegas show girls, adorned with cascading mushrooms, moss, and vines. They stand out in all their finery, in juxtaposition to the other plainer trees. Of course the irony is that these beautiful trees are dead and dying trees, and their finery is the work of decomposers set on reducing them to a rich addition to the earth beneath them.


DeGroot 6. ShowtimeShowtime – watercolor on paper, 7′ x 3 1/2′, 2017

Degroot 4. Showtime IIShowtime II –  watercolor on paper, 5′ x 3 1/2′ , 2017 


My paintings honor my subjects’ singular elegance and imagined personality, and I hope they can remind viewers to celebrate beauty in unexpected places.

—Katie DeGroot

Katie DeGroot
Artist Katie DeGroot was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan and grew up in the arcadian suburbs of Boston, MA. As a teenager she moved to Chicago, IL during the famous Democratic National Convention riots of 1968. She attended New York University and Illinois State University before spending nearly 20 years in New York City. Katie now resides on her great-grandparents’ farm next to the Hudson River in Fort Edward, NY, where she raises beef cows and makes art. She is also currently the director of Skidmore College Summer Studio Art Program.


Jun 052017

Miranda Boulton (The Painter)xxxxxxxxKaddy Benyon (The Poet) 


The studio is at the top of the narrow terraced house in what was once an attic. Clean, white lines, and a long slice of window that displays the city below, glittering in the sunshine that has followed a snow flurry. The space has that rich, expectant silence of all places where creativity occurs. It belongs to the painter, Miranda Boulton, and its walls are lined with canvasses that are part of her recent body of work, one of which, Day to Night, was selected for the 2016 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The paintings draw on the 17th century Dutch tradition of flower painting, but here the eerie calm of the black background surrounds a vortex of layered expressionistic images that have a mesmeric quality. Miranda tells me how the painting came about:

Day To Night  40 x 30 cm, oil on board (2015)

Miranda Boulton (MB): I was thinking about how I was painting and I was flicking through my phone late at night. I saw this image of flowers and the next day I tried to recreate it. I used to use photos to paint from, I needed something solid to reference. With this painting, I let go of all that and just worked from memory. It was like getting rid of my stabilizers. I let go and it all seemed to come together for me. It became more about the process of painting, of one stroke leading into another, then taking it off and going back and forth in layers of paint… pentimento… it was letting go, so one mark led to the next, it was a process of trying to get to something, of knowing and unknowing.

Pentimento, I discover, when I look it up later, comes from the Italian for repentence, and refers to traces in the work that show the artist has changed her mind in the course of composition. The traces may appear in the underdrawing, or in the painting over the drawing, or in subsequent over-painting. It seems appropriate that working from memory and its infinite layers should result in a palimpsestic painting of such complexity. And appropriate, too, that the unfathomable depths of the internet should provide its origin.

MB: A lot of the source material I use is from the internet. I quite like the distance. When you’re dealing with flower imagery it’s so personal and I find the internet neutralises that. The image becomes a free-floating thing that can mean anything. Then it’s about capturing that meaning.

Victoria Best (VB): I have this idea of the internet as a vast unconscious, just not your unconscious, but other peoples’. It’s like a huge daydream in which you cycle through other people’s discarded images.

MB: I think all the paintings are about ghosts, they are all haunted. For me it’s very much an acknowledgment of the past and the present merging… It’s an interesting thing about painting that you have this whole history behind you and you have to acknowledge that. You have to deny it and accept it; you have to hold it somewhere but it can’t be too much to the forefront. Because I studied art history I had too many images in my head and it took me a long time to desaturate myself. Now I know what my influences are, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking at books because it’s memories I’m interested in filtering. It’s these traces that are left on us that I want to explore and I can only do that when I’m in process. It’s a process of knowing and not knowing and letting go and it’s the actual paint, the texture and the materiality, that allows it out.

VB: It’s all about the flow.

MB: It becomes almost meditative when you know you’re functioning in the moment. You have to hold it all, be aware of it all, but you’ve got to put it over to one side when you’re doing it. I think there’s a process in doing a body of work. You start with an idea and there’s a point where you have to look back and quantify it, think it through. It’s like going below and above water. I understand it now although for a long time I didn’t.

VB: So how long did it take you to do this?

MB: This painting? Probably took me about six months. In different settings and times so there are different layers. Each of these paintings has been completely other paintings before, and worked through over time, and completely destroyed and then worked into again and again. There’s an archaeology.

VB: Do you have to work through sketches in order to get what you want?

MB: No, but I work things out when I’m doing these smaller ones. I work out a gesture, ideas, and then it comes to fruition on the larger ones. They have many more layers underneath the surface.  Sometimes it works in one layer, but if you haven’t worked on the layers underneath it doesn’t have quite the same density to the surface.

A World in Itself  50 x 40 cm, oil on board (2016)

Nevertheless, I find myself deeply drawn to the smaller paintings with their bell jar effects. Having been in the presence of Miranda’s work for a while now, the theories of Rollo May on creativity are coming to my mind. In his book, The Courage to Create, May proposed that creativity is first and foremost an encounter, be it with ‘a landscape, an idea, an inner vision, an experiment’. We know in works of art when that encounter has significance for ‘genuine reality is characterized by an intensity of awareness, a heightened consciousness.’ Artists, for May, are people who have the courage to risk turning their intense, sensitive consciousness onto their world in order to have those startling encounters. If you have escapist art, you won’t get that experience of encounter. But with Miranda’s work, I’m conscious of being in the presence of something very real and visceral.

MB: There’s a lot of figuration. This one [Day to Night] there’s a lot of limbs and different parts of the body. To me the image in the middle is like a kind of truncated torso. Whereas these ones I was interested in being much more internal… internal organs, blood and guts. But made quite timeless in a way and contained.

VB: You have this very 19th century effect here with the bell jar. You have something very sterile and held without oxygen but in fact you can see inside it to the blood and the guts. That’s a terrific draw into the painting.

MB: It’s the old and the new, a collision. There’s a timeline when you read a painting. You have a moment when you take the whole thing in, and then you unpick it. Every book, every movie, is fed to you chronologically, but painting is very different. It happens in the moment and then unfolds over time.

VB: Because painting can’t explain anything. Most other artforms explain, but an image doesn’t.

MB: No, you have to bring your own meaning to it, you bring yourself to it and you respond to it in different ways. It can take a lot of time. Once you’ve seen that painting and you start to look into it, you will never see the same thing again. It’s amazing and one thing I absolutely love. It’s the temporal process of painting and I think that’s why building up these layers over time is very important to me, because you’ve got to unpick them over time.

Rollo May also talks about the artistic ‘waiting’, the necessity of holding still and calm in the face of the empty page, the blank canvas, for the next right step to take place. ‘It is necessary,’ he says, ‘that the artist have this sense of timing, that he or she respect these periods of receptivity as part of the mystery of creativity and creation.’ I ask Miranda if this is something she is ever conscious of: waiting for the images to settle and the time to come.

MB: I don’t think I’m aware of it but I’m aware of creating the conditions for it to happen. If you’re too aware you trip yourself up. You have to get in the studio and just do it. This week after the holidays I went back into the studio and I had one day when nothing worked. I was going in and out between the layers of paint looking for the imagery. Two days later I went back in the studio and had a great day. It takes a long time for it to come out of the painting and some days I’ve got a real fight on my hands. But when you get there, it’s so worth it.

VB: When we first discussed doing this interview, I was talking about art often being pre-empted by crisis. And your feeling was slightly different.

MB: I think for me, it’s never been about crisis. It’s a feeling of being very uncomfortable, vulnerable, and then I know I’m getting somewhere because it’s really, really hard.

VB: Rilke says the artist is a perpetual beginner in his or her circumstances.

MB: Yes, you’re going back to the beginning often and questioning. It’s a process of uncovering yourself. Because it really is all about you. Maybe there’s a point when you take a step forward that you know is really positive because its uncovering or exposing something else about yourself. I need that vulnerability to know I’m having a real encounter with the work.

I have been impressed all along by Miranda’s creative serenity. I’m beginning to realise that she has this startling grace because she is so at home in her processes, so welcoming to every stage of creativity, accepting even the hardships – perhaps especially the hardships – as necessary and relevant. I’m intrigued to know how she began painting.

MB: When I first started painting seriously, about 15 years ago, it was landscape based. My Granny passed away at 101. I had a very close relationship with her and when she died I went to the house and found this book of photos that my Grandpa had taken. I never met him; he was a painter and he died before I was born. The photos were taken in Norway in the 1930s and for two years I painted from them. I put other things in, figures and animals and really made them my own. I created this whole mythological world from them. I’ve always had this thing about combining figures within the work whether it’s landscape or still life, there’s just this humanistic side, something fleshy in there. I have tried to move away from it but it always comes back whatever I do. I’ve accepted that now.

Recline  40 x 30 cm, oil on board (2011)

VB: Did you know you would always do something artistic?

MB: Yes, I always wanted to be a painter. I suppose growing up with painting around me and Granny telling me about her days at the Royal College, it became this mystery, the mystery of the artist.

VB: So both your grandparents were painters?

MB:  They both went to the Royal College and met there. Granny went into fashion design and he went into painting. So growing up with it around, it was always a possibility. It was open. It was allowed. And my Grandpa’s studio was still in the house and she didn’t clear it out. So I used to go in there and just stand and look at all the brushes and the paints and the canvasses and things. There was just this kind of romance in my head.

VB: How has motherhood been? Has motherhood got in the way?

MB: I think it’s helped. Beforehand, I used to spend hours thinking, what shall I paint, what shall I paint? And then suddenly, I had no time. I had two hours and I had to get on with it. It really freed me up, it stopped me judging myself. I used to go to a lot more exhibitions and read a lot more books, look at a lot more paintings and suddenly I had no time and it was actually the best thing. I was so image saturated and the possibilities… when you get to a canvas you have endless possibilities. I had to strip it bare; it was a kind of going inwards to go outwards. And also, because I was in the home, it kept me sane. So my son would go to sleep and I would put the baby monitor on him and go and paint.

VB: Did the landscapes move into the flowers? Did you have a stage in between?

MB: Yes there was a stage when I was playing different genres. I like working within a genre, a seam I’m really mining. So I did the landscapes and then I was working with lots of different imagery for a couple of years. I used to trip myself up. I’d get so far with a line of imagery and then think, that’s getting a bit problematic, I’ll try something else. But you never get into anything in depth if you don’t stick with it.

VB: You need that concentration and focus.

MB: If you look up here I’ve got rules of painting. I did those nearly two years ago when I said to myself: you’ve got to hone in. And I’ve stuck to it and it’s been the best thing.

VB: How much is art about permission?

MB: Yes, precisely. But you’ve got to understand your own methods of making it harder for yourself – or momentarily easier, but harder in the long run. I was making it easier by saying, I’ve got bored of this, I’ll do a figure, I’ll do a landscape, I’ll do all of it. But actually I was tripping myself up for the long term. In the short term it was keeping the flow going.

VB: Isn’t that the way? The running away is never…

MB: The facing up to it is what matters. You stick with it. I told myself: if you want to paint flowers, then you paint flowers. Do what you want.

VB: Why is that the hardest thing? To say: do what you need to do, what you want to do, what exactly speaks to you in the moment, free from other people’s demands and expectations. I don’t know why that’s so hard.

MB: We’re very self-critical. But I think the thing that’s probably changed over the last few years is painting from memory. Although the landscapes were about memories they weren’t my memories, they were my grandparents. It’s about traces left on our minds. It’s an interesting thing about the process. You think you’ve gone somewhere really different and then you realise…ah, I’m back in the same place. But maybe I have moved forward a little bit. For you, it’s really different, but probably no one else realises it.

VB: So maybe it was with the flower paintings when you felt you’d actually found your…

MB: Yes, I understood because it was the second massive body of work I’d done, and I understood what the first one was about through the second one on a much deeper level. You have to have a fascination with something. Then to understand that fascination you have to do it for long enough so that you can go back to the beginning many times.

VB: You have to have a whole revolution.

MB: You have to lose your way massively and then find it again.

VB: The art of going wrong.You have to go wrong first before you can go right.

MB: And this is what I’m talking about with the vulnerability. You have to sit with that absolute discomfort.

We have stumbled into the territory of my favourite theory about creativity – that it is as Kathryn Schulz says in her book Being Wrong, ‘an invitation to enjoy ourselves in the land of wrongness.’ She argues that art comes about because ‘we cannot grasp things directly as they are.’ In consequence, there exists an exploitable gap between the real and our perceptions, a gap embroidered and embellished by the powers of imagination. The artist who permits free rein to imagination effects entry into a parallel world ‘where error is not about fear and shame, but about disruption, reinvention and pleasure.’ This extends to the consumers of art as well, for we look at art in order to lose ourselves, so that we might find ourselves in new ways. I think of Miranda’s pentimento, the layers and layers of overpainting that create these deep, pleasurable palimpsests in which we cannot distinguish which lines, which forms are the ‘right’ ones to read. And I think of her embrace of vulnerability and discomfort, knowing that these are the states that open into creativity, not block it. It seems strange to think about wrongness in relation to Miranda and her art, when she is so clear in her vision, so steady in her process, and so calm about the necessity of creative disquiet. But it’s the eerie uncertainty of her paintings and their ghostly resonance in which the past and the present collide that remain in my memory long after seeing them.

Mary  60 x 65 cm, oil on board (2017)

MB: I’ve just done these two paintings this week. I don’t think this one’s finished, though this one definitely is. It’s possibly a little bit more easily read than a lot of my paintings but I’m so happy with it. It’s just hit something for me.

VB: I love the cameo. It’s something my eye is drawn to the whole time. I’m looking at the centre always in reference to the frame.

MB: For me it’s like a mirror. You’re reflecting yourself within the imagery.

VB: It’s interesting what you were saying about having to work in a place of knowing and not knowing, of certainty and doubt, the past and the present. There’s a really interesting play here between wildness and control.

MB: Yes, there’s a sort of romantic quality to it. There’s a deliberate wornness, an acknowledging of age. Which is reflected in the background and also in the imagery.

VB: I love the texture of the pink. It feels like it’s reaching out to me.


The room is small but high-ceilinged and orderly, comforting and snug. There’s one wall of bookshelves filled with thin volumes of poetry and notebooks that have the properly thumbed and used appearance of books constantly considered and reread. Above the small, neat, desk there is the most beautiful storyboard I have ever seen. I can’t read the lines printed on the white cards that fill the margins, or make out very clearly the cluster of images pinned in the centre, but it feels as if something very rich and complex is going on in this thought cloud. The room belongs to the poet, Kaddy Benyon, whose first collection, Milk Fever (2012) garnered awards. She is working on her second, Call Her Alaska, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, ‘The Snow Queen’, and has finished a third, The Glass Harvest. She is also currently writing a novel. Kaddy’s early career was as a television scriptwriter, but then her work took an abrupt turn.

Kaddy Benyon (KB): I think it was when my son was a baby that we moved to Cambridge and I did the MA at Anglia Ruskin in Creative Writing. I thought: I am only going to write teen novels because I’ve written Hollyoaks and I know exactly what I’m doing, thank you very much. And I came out of the machine two years later a poet. I wasn’t expecting that; I didn’t really know how that happened.

VB: Did you get an assignment to write poetry that started you off?

KB: In my final year there was going to be a scriptwriting module and I said to my tutor, with respect I’ve done this as a job and I think it’s a bit of a waste of time. Can I do an independent study? And they said, yes, we have this brilliant poet [Michael Bayley] who tutors people. Would you be interested in poetry? I was really playing hard to get and said, well I love reading it but I don’t think I’m a poet. And my tutor said, just go for a week with him, see what you think. It’s seven years this week that I met him and we’ve still got this lovely collaborative relationship. The first poem I ever wrote for him, we met up for the tutorial afterwards and he was very serious. He looked at me and I thought, fuck, it must have been awful. And he said, this is seriously good, send this out. It got taken by London Magazine, the first thing I ever wrote and it’s in my book [Milk Fever] as well, the one called ‘Ice Fishing’. He really loved it and he just encouraged me. He reads every poem that I produce, even now.

VB: It’s funny isn’t it… do women have muses? Is he a muse?

KB: I wouldn’t say he is. He’s sort of like my safety net. If a poem hasn’t been Michaeled I feel it’s no good. It needs to go through him and get the thumbs up or the thumbs down. Sometimes he’ll say, this isn’t quite there, just leave it for a few months, come at it from this angle, or this drafting technique. Everyone needs someone who’s above them on the ladder and who says, come up here, it’s great. I don’t really know any other writers who haven’t got that first reader, who you can stand in front of, kind of naked, and say: I’ve produced this, I don’t know what it is. Could you look at it? Do you still love me? I’m nervous, Michael’s nearly retired now and he wants to do less and less. So I feel like I need to have my eye out. I need to have a writing mummy or daddy, because it can’t always be him, even though it’s been brilliant and I hope it continues as long as it can. It’s frightening. I suppose to acknowledge the need for that is halfway to getting it.

VB: So let me get this straight. After Milk Fever, you did the ‘Snow Queen’ poems [Call Her Alaska] and then you moved onto this new body of work?

KB: The Snow Queen isn’t finished. That was why I was in residency at the Scott Polar Museum [in Cambridge] and that was Arts Council funded. It did produce the exhibition, ‘The Snow Queen Retold’, and there are something like 200 poems in draft. About 30 are done.


You came and I was longing for you.
You cooled a heart that burned with desire.

The Robber Maiden

You were the prettiest little trinket
these sooted eyes had ever seen,

& yet I robbed you
of your defences: laid you

out on a bed of straw, slipped
you dripping from your hood, your furs,

those rabbitskin boots.
You wept when I licked the icedust

glister from your breasts; kissed
your twenty-three ribs; spread

heat & delight between your thighs.
We wintered on whispers &

firelight & my hundred smoky
turtledoves peeping from the rafters

seemed like poets, rolling love
on their tongues instead of ashes.


Slipping from her mother’s whiskered
skins, she haunts my tangled forest

dreams, a bandit in snicking
thickets. She creeps under cover

of leafmould, fingerblades grazing
my lips, strips me of my mantle, my kirtle,

those rabbitskin boots.
Pinned between her jack-knifed limbs,

a scent of flame & fury rises from her
skin; her flapping rabble of filthy

mocking birds laughing from the rafters.
Snowmelt: whetted backbone to

aching backbone, I steal from her
choking stranglehold, drag her kicking

heart from its unlocked, bare chest,
spit on the embers of her desire & flee.

VB: How many poems are you looking to have?

KB: Probably 50 to 60 so I’m way over. I’ve got the luxury of choosing. But I had a bit of a blip. It was in 2014 in the spring, just a bit of a mental blip and needed to take time out. I couldn’t write anything for three to six months but I was still at the Museum, and it was quite difficult because I was almost pretending everything was fine. But I wasn’t producing, although I was doing all of the research. I was loosely following the journey that Gerda makes in the fairy tale but sometimes I put quite a feminist slant on it, sometimes quite a Sapphic slant with her and the Robber Girl. I did my research trip to Finland and it was almost like I was taking in so much information and possibilities that I couldn’t hone it down. All of my notebooks are just full. About a year ago I went through them and typed up everything I could, so it is a more manageable beast now.

VB: What was the first thing that drew you towards ‘The Snow Queen’?

KB: When I was seven, my dad went to Denmark on a business trip and he bought me a version of the book back. I just fell in love with the pictures, the one of the Robber Girl in particular. Because they terrified me but they excited me at the same time. So there was quite a wicked pleasure to it.

VB: There is something about the Snow Queen. What is it about her?

KB: I assume, with my Jungian head on, that she is an archetype in all of us, scares all of us, and we think she’s going to kiss us and we’ll freeze. I don’t know.

VB: I think she’s somewhere between being scary and comforting. She’s the cold mother. There’s the possibility of the maternal and of patronage… but there’s also something vicious as well. This is what interests me about poetry. I can get my head around a novel of the ‘Snow Queen’ or an analysis of it. But poetry — it seems to me a strange way of saying that what you want to say isn’t easily said.

KB: I feel a real chiming with the fairy tale and I think I’m all the characters in it as well, like in a dream. I can be icy and distant when I’m into my work, and I could attach my sledge to an idea and go racing off without thinking.

VB: So you were working on Call Her Alaska, and then the poems on the islands came along?

KB: Yes, I had this breakdown I mentioned in 2014 and I was feeling so ill and I said to my husband, let’s just go somewhere we’ve never been before, let’s go to an island in the middle of the sea. My poetry tutor used to mention this place that was a bit like Avalon; I didn’t know whether it was fact or fiction, and it was Lindisfarne. I said, let’s go to Lindisfarne and all four of us just fell in love with it and we’ve been back every year since. I think about 30 of the poems came just in that week. Then I got a residency this time last year to Eigg, and we went to Skye in the summer. So the collection is about those three different islands, and I don’t know why they came to get me, but they did. That manuscript is being Michaeled at the moment. And I’m just scared of that as well. I’m scared of everything I write.

……..(after Edwin Morgan)

There were never cloudberries
like the ones we found
that tender afternoon
in peaty ruins
Lindisfarne Castle
a late autumn sunlight
wind moving in the dunes
heather staining the mainland
your pale hands emerging
from fingerless gloves
to uncover a little plant
preserved in salty darkness
you untucked its leaves
revealing three amber jewels
the first bruised to a juice
the second placed delicately
on your tongue your blue eyes
on mine my open mouth
watering to take the final honey
cluster between my lips
leaning side by side
our wellies kicked off
you urged me to abandon
my island living
walk the causeway beside you
my tight fist nestled in your palm

let me be beautiful
in that remembered light
precious as the rose gold lodes
coursing deep within
your highland hills
let me reach for you and follow

let the tide rinse away our tracks

VB: The anxiety of creation is so prevalent. I remember reading that creativity is a form of trespassing on the divine – Prometheus being one of the first examples, stealing the secret of making fire, and the Gods punished him for that.

KB: The liver business. That feels right, intuitively. This novel I’m writing… it’s fast. I feel like I’m channelling it, or I’m being whispered it, so it’s not really mine. It’s almost like the gods are giving me this gift and then I will claim it as my own by saying: by Kaddy Benyon. But it doesn’t really feel like that.

I tell Kaddy about one of my favourite theories of creativity by the psychotherapist, Christopher Bollas in his book Cracking Up. Bollas pointed to the constant free flow of ideas, images and thoughts that race through the mind mostly unobserved as the basic element of our fundamental creativity. Like rush hour traffic, these mental elements congregate around experiences that have a particularly intense emotional resonance, though often they may be simple things, scarcely worth the charge they give us on first appearances. Bollas talks about ‘psychic bangs, which create small but complex universes of thought.’ But I wonder whether the sensitive, dynamic, creative mind both uses this free flow and falls foul of it. I think that stress plus a freewheeling mind often results in catastrophising. Creative folk may well produce beautiful and innovative result from free association. But it’s hard to prevent our thoughts from delivering us into dark mental alleyways where we’ll likely get beaten up.

KB: That really makes sense to me because my analysis has underpinned everything that I’ve written that I’m proud of. The analysis has taught me to use my mind in a free associating way that I use with all my poems. It’s almost like a mind map.

VB: It’s about processing, isn’t it? Because things get processed very small in the creative mind.

KB: That’s true about noticing, I think, letting your mind be open to noticing how things are connecting up that you might not be conscious of yet. That’s what the analysis has done for me.

VB: You went into analysis after the breakdown?

KB: No, I was already in analysis. It was 2008, so it’s been nine years this January and my first creative writing teacher at university, Edmund Cusick, had died quite suddenly and quite young and I had just had my son. We’d moved house as well. I was overwhelmed and I needed someone to talk to. I didn’t actually know what analysis was at that time, but I knew that my teacher who died, who was a poet as well, was very into Jung. So I looked it up on the strength of his stuff. He was the first person, when I was 18, to tell me I could write. He was the first one to give me permission. I was at university and he used to say, right, I want you all to keep a dream diary and write poems in response to your dreams. So that’s completely how I work now.

VB: So dreaming is an important part of what you do?

KB:  I’ve had poems that have arrived from dreams, fully formed. Not often; a couple in Milk Fever, like the one about Louise Bourgeois just came. I do keep a dream diary, because I think dream material is free from all the stuff you’re trying to force or impose upon it to make it mean something. And it means something in its own way anyway, it just might not make much sense. I quite like things that don’t make sense. They have an intuitive sense but not a logical one and I like that.

I’d been reading Carl Phillips’s wonderful meditation on poetic creativity, The Art of Daring, shortly before seeing Kaddy, and his insight on poetic meaning, that any ‘successful poem – one that is true to human experience – will resist closure. To be resonant is to resist absolute closure’ occurs to me now, thinking about the experience of dreaming. Closure, or what stands in its place in the poetic universe, often comes in the form of form, in the typographical shape of the poem on the page. Phillips suggests ‘Form, shape – these may be our only way, finally, of making sense of the world around us. And the body may be the one form, finally, from which we begin, each time, our knowing.’ I’m intrigued by the neat, firm formality of Kaddy’s poems, and one, ‘Causeway’, is a particular favourite of mine.


No workmen or bulldozers, just two plucky women ceaselesslyX trying to reach one another despite winter storms, rising tides, savage winds untamed from Scandinavia. Daily they strive – not so much to hold back the tide – but to work with it, around it, in deference to its unstable surge to spoil, spill and gush across their toil; to ransack any progress and demolish vague relations to the mainland. Natural drainage is compromised by drifts of sea-born debris: silt, salt, wrack and shattered shells, all plotting to induce some fresh destruction. And I know, god how I know, how it begins to feel like a punishment, a kind of ritual destruction, this endless, joyless, repeating and repeating and repeating only to witness the sea’s deleting.

KB: It’s about the analytical work and the way my emotional tides come along and destroy it every now and then. And we start again. I’m trying to do new things with form and every experiment I don’t know if it works or not. In Call Her Alaska there are a lot of two-sided or two-faced poems that are almost wings with a column of nothing in the middle. One is about Gerda on one side and the Robber Girl on the other and they’re seeing that they shared a bed in a very different way. It was quite complicated to do and sometimes I just want to rip them up and throw them out the window. But when they come good it’s worth it.

VB: I always think of you as so finished in what you do. Whatever I’ve read of yours has been so polished, so beautiful. I think of you as someone who produces these carefully faceted gems.

KB: I’m aware that I’m doing that as part of my process. My eye can’t tolerate a messy poem. But I think it’s too much of a constraint on myself to express myself neatly and symmetrically at all times. Because life is messy and humans are messy.

VB: But maybe there’s something in that form that holds back, that holds you back in a sense.

KB: I think I needed that with Milk Fever for sure. I needed a container to be absolutely watertight because I wasn’t sure what I was dealing with and it was rising up from somewhere I’d never tapped. And I was constantly flooded with the material that was coming. It was almost like I had to impose the form on it. But now I’m more comfortable with my process and I feel I can’t be writing poems that could have been in Milk Fever now. I have to have moved on and be taking risks even though its terrifying.

VB: Thinking about containers and Milk Fever… I was just thinking about your mother and the fact that the hug is the basic form of containment. It’s that: I’ve got you moment. You’re within the circle of my arms.

KB: Yes, and it’s probably also the strongest recurring theme in my analysis. I’ve said to my analyst nearly every day for nine years, can I have a cuddle? And she’ll say no, you can’t have a literal cuddle, but I’ll cuddle you by holding you in my mind. But I do feel the analysis  has opened up the creativity. I was aware since I was six I wanted to be signing books in Heffers. That’s all I wanted, ever. But I didn’t know how to do it, or how much of my self I had to draw up and present to the universe to see if the universe would like it or not.

VB: One of the things I’m most interested in is this idea that art comes from the place of being wrong. And that can be from the fact that reality is always distorted by our perceptions. I’m thinking of what Carl Phillips says, that poems tend to transform rather than translate.

KB: What comes to mind when you say that is: when I was writing a poem called ‘Strange Fruit’ it came from my most shameful feelings when I was a teenager, ugly and repulsive, and I felt like I had to say it, but I had to put it into beauty. Is that what you mean? That I made something ugly beautiful?

Strange Fruit

Sometimes I have an urge to slip
my hands inside the soiled, wilting
necks of your gardening gloves;
to let my fingers fill each dusty
burrow, then close my eyes and feel
a blush of nurture upon my skin.

Sometimes I am so afraid my hurt
will hack at your figs, strawberries,
or full-bellied beans, I dig my fists
in my pockets and nip myself. Sometimes
I imagine the man who belongs to
the hat hanging on the bright-angled

nail in your shed. I think about you
toiling and sweating with him;
coaxing growth from warm earth;
pushing life into furrows. I am curious
about what cultivates and blooms
there in your enclosed, raised bed –

yet I want no tithe of it for myself.
Sometimes I just want to show
you the places I’m mottled, rotten
and bruised; I want you to lean close
enough to hold the strange fruit
of me and tell me I may yet thrive.

VB: Yes, but without translating it into something obvious or too straightforwardly explanatory. You didn’t need to have an explanation. What you needed to do was transform that sense into something meaningful.

KB: That makes sense. And I think I didn’t really realise the weight of that in my work. Not just in my poetry, but in the novel as well. It’s almost like the kernel of it is my biggest shame. Or rather, the thing I was made to be most ashamed of, but I actually found it beautiful.

VB: I like that.

KB: I was reading one of the Notting Hill Editions books of essays, the one called Humiliation. The author was saying something about shame and vomiting and diarrhoea when all your most smelly, shameful, awful innards just come out violently, and that’s like the creative process for me. That’s how it feels. And I do feel mostly ashamed of my productions until I can polish them and make them beautiful. My first drafts are like the worst nappy in the world, just a shit explosion.

VB: Shame is a cul-de-sac of emotions. Guilt is about reparation, but shame you’re stuck with. I’m ashamed of myself, I can’t exist, I can’t live, I can’t be. You have to do something with that. The psychiatrist, James Gilligan, made a study of the most violent prisoners in jail and found that they had all suffered terrible shame in early life.

KB: It’s a real head-hanging one, isn’t it? Shame and rage are next door neighbours.

VB: And rage turned inwards is anxiety. So there’s a whole circle of stuff going on… it’s the circle of artistic life, isn’t it?

KB: Why do we do it?

VB: Because ultimately it’s reparative. Somewhere along the line.

I, too, have that Notting Hill Editions essay by Wayne Koestenbaum entitled ‘Humiliation.’ Later, rereading it again, I find an anecdote that strikes a chord, as it were. One of his fellow students at an unnamed summer music school tells him about the way that a popular teacher whose speciality was ‘relaxation’, ruined her own performing career by sitting down at the piano for her onstage debut before an applauding audience only to be sick over the keyboard. Koestenbaum has this reflection to make on the story: ‘Vomit on the keyboard – that image symbolises, for me, the always possible danger of the body speaking up for its own rights, against the stringent demands of the mind’s wish to construct a plausible, attractive, laudable self for other people to consume.’ Thinking about Kaddy’s poetry and the anxieties that surround her creative process I feel a strong belief that it’s one of art’s most important tasks to stand up for not just the rights of the body, but the reality of the body, the reality of our messy, upsetting, often overwhelming existence. It’s the job of art to talk about all the truths no one wants to hear, in ways in which they might finally manage to hear them and be assuaged. In that way Kaddy, like other artists, can experience the all-important acceptance of what feels like the worst of the self, though it’s only our shared humanity. But what I also hear in everything Kaddy says is her intense, passionate love of her creative process. In the very act of polishing that turd, Kaddy’s love trumps her fear and that is a powerful act. I ask her if she feels valid as a writer.

KB: When Milk Fever first came out, it was like, oh I’ve produced something and people like it and this is strange and nice. That was 2012 and I do feel very under pressure to produce either another collection or do something different so I can sustain that viability. I don’t feel like it’s just a given forever. I find myself longing to be in the position, either as a poet or a novelist, where I have a publisher and any idea I have will be considered, and hopefully published. They have faith in me, I have faith in me… but I just don’t feel I’m there yet.

VB: It sounds like a good family thing. You want that parental authority in place.

KB: I’m never not working. It’s constantly what I’m doing and worrying away at. I love it. But when you can’t prove it… People often ask me in the playground, ‘When is your next book coming out?’ and it’s the worst question ever. Because the answer is not only when I’m ready, but if I ever get another publisher. I think it was quite affecting that Salt stopped publishing single author collections of poetry about the year after mine came out. So I went from the euphoria of yes, I’ve arrived! To oh shit, I’ve got to start again. So now with The Glass Harvest, it’s kind of done. I imagine if I sent it off to a few places they’d at least read it because I’ve been published before. But there’s no guarantee and I just can’t face the no. It took me two years to write that and it just meant so much to me as it was all that I went through. So I’m not sending it anywhere. Because that might just stop me writing altogether and I’m in the middle of this novel.

VB: The process is horrible and can be toxic at times, and not at all good for people who are writers. It’s ironic that you couldn’t have made it worse for people who are writers.

KB: And it’s frightening, weirdly, conversely, just to know that an agent is waiting to have a look [at the novel]. Even though most of the other writers on Hollyoaks had agents, I’d got the job on my own and I didn’t need an agent to look for anything else. And now it’s that horrible thought: would anyone be interested? Would anyone take me on? Would they earn any money from me? Oh God, too much pressure. You know when you don’t know whether you’re being bold or stupid? That’s where I am with it.

VB: My money’s on bold.


This is what happens when you work with creative people. Miranda and Kaddy – who happen to live minutes apart – became interested in each other’s work over the course of these interviews. Now Kaddy has one of Miranda’s paintings on her wall, and Miranda has some of Kaddy’s poems. They both intend to create something in response to the work of the other. In six months’ time, we’re all going to meet up again to see what they have produced and to discuss the creative processes they went through. Intense, irresistible curiosity, the lure of the new idea or the intriguing object, was something we never spoke about in our interviews – it just went ahead and happened instead.

Born in Cambridge, Miranda Boulton has a BA (hons) in Art History from Sheffield Hallam University and finished three years on the Turps Banana Correspondence Course in 2015. She has exhibited widely across the UK and was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (2016), The Salon Art Prize (2011) and The Artworks Open (2010 and 2011). Her exhibitions include: a two-person exhibition ‘Off Line On Line’ at Studio 1.1, London (2015), and the solo exhibitions ‘Lost in The Middle’, New Hall Art Collection, Cambridge (2012) and ‘Outside In’, Madame Lillies Gallery, London (2011). She has work in private collections in France, USA, Ireland and many locations within the UK. Miranda is currently co-curating a group exhibition ‘Storyboard’ at Lubomirov Angus Hughes in London, which opens on the 14th April.

Kaddy Benyon’s first collection, Milk Fever, won the Crashaw Prize and was published by Salt in 2012. She has also written poems in response to Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ for a collaborative exhibition with a costume designer during a residency at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. Last year Kaddy travelled to the remote Scottish island of Eigg for a residency with The Bothy Project. Whilst there she wrote poems toward her second collection, The Glass Harvest. Kaddy is a Granta New Poet and has been highly commended in the Forward Prizes.

Victoria Best taught at St John’s College, Cambridge for 13 years. Her books include: Critical Subjectivities; Identity and Narrative in the work of Colette and Marguerite Duras (2000), An Introduction to Twentieth Century French Literature (2002) and, with Martin Crowley, The New Pornographies; Explicit Sex in Recent French Fiction and Film (2007). A freelance writer since 2012, she has published essays in Cerise Press and Open Letters Monthly and is currently writing a book on crisis and creativity. She is also co-editor of the quarterly review magazine Shiny New Books.


May 052017

UndoingUndoing — acrylic and graphite pencil on paper, 20″ x 20″, 2012 (from Lachesis measure exhibit, 2012)

Bonnie Baker in studio 8
Bonnie Baker in her studio


The work I make is connected to rural culture. I grew up in the farmlands of Southern Ontario at a time when big tobacco agribusiness was at its peak. The affected communities changed rapidly as small family farms adapted to industrialized agriculture. Transformation, for good or bad, made a permanent impression on me. I use the imagery of vacant highways, emptied landscapes, abstract cloudscapes, animal bones, twists of rope, and topographical lines to suggest frailty and uncertainty where once was tradition and stability.

The fact that I continue to work within the representational genre is a choice. I am fascinated by the representational element. There is much room for large and small space, for both intimacy and distance within the same work. I never feel constricted or boxed into a dead end by iconic objects or landscapes. Though physical objects appear defined, ideas surrounding them are limitless.

From Geography of Bliss exhibit, 2016

Seal Island Bridge Split ViewSeal Island Bridge Road Camera Split View — graphite and mica on paper,
40″ x 60″, 2016

Bridgetown 2011Bridgetown Road Camera Feb 2011 — graphite, charcoal and pastel on paper,
22″ x 30″, 2016

Hubbards 2012Hubbards Road Camera Feb 2012 — graphite and wax crayon on paper,
22″ x 30″, 2016

Road leads awayroad leads away — graphite on paper, 40″ x 60″, 2013


My approach is governed by the Japanese concept called mujinzou, which loosely translated means inexhaustible supply. I may have an idea when I go to the studio, but many theories fail during investigation, which leads to new passages. I allow myself many failures, then explore the unintended consequences. Often the by-product of initial attempts contains profound meaning. I think navigating the passages can be more significant than the finalized state.

from Lachesis measure exhibit, 2012

7. Infinity 500 pxInfinity — charcoal and wax crayon on paper, 36″ x 72″, 2012 

FrayedFrayed — charcoal and crayon on Mylar, 36″ x 24″, 2011


I begin by looking closely at a subject, methodically creating drawings of the same image over and over to understand my subject better. Once the image gains a life of its own, then I can look at it, think about it, and revise it. The revised drawing is now an expression of a new thought, rich in emotional expression and poetic aftermath. What is left behind by erasure or alterations is the debris marks recording the drawing’s history, exposing it to a richness and depth that happens by chance.

From Boneyard series, ongoing

VertebraVertebrae — graphite on paper, 26″ x 31″,  2016
Lamb's HipLamb’s Hip — graphite on paper, 24″ x 38″, 2016
Right AntlerRight Antler — graphite on paper, 22″ x 30″, 2016


I prefer the restraints imposed by charcoal and graphite sometimes mixed with organic elements, reserving colour for printmaking. Drawing in black, white, and grey intensifies focus without sentimentality, avoiding the temptation to appreciate only the meditative beauty of the subject.

In a similar way, my printmaking also records objects belonging to a rural environment and an ecology of transition. Using combinations of printmaking techniques, I am concerned less with the perfection of the editioned print, letting the image develop at the press as multiple variations often lead to play and exploration of a subject.

From Archipelago suite, ongoing

ConfluenceConfluence — etching, 22″ x 30″, 2012
ConvergenceConvergence — etching, 22″ x 30″, 2012
IsthmusIsthmus — etching, 22″ x 30″, 2012

I work full-time as an artist and this gives me a great deal of happiness. I am usually working in my head. I am thinking about projects as I walk, shop, and do household tasks. I make mental notes on changes to things I am working on. I cannot predict who or what will influence how I see or think about what I am working on, only that these experiences will subtly revise how I critically think then technically express themes in my work. The time spent in the studio is far less than the time spent thinking about, making notes on, and preparing for actually working. Working in the studio is my way of being alone, of being curious, of seeking clarity. It is often a confusing, uncomfortable and frustrating way to work, but if I persist long enough, new paths are uncovered.

—Bonnie Baker


Bonnie Baker works at drawing and printmaking. Before moving to Nova Scotia, where she now lives, Bonnie studied glass blowing at Humber College in Ontario, lived in Whitehorse, Yukon, and travelled through Alaska. Bonnie has studied printmaking at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, at Women’s Studio Workshop, NY, and with master printmaker Cecil Day. In addition to drawing and printmaking, Bonnie worked with textiles from 1984 to 2007.

Community engagement is very much part of her practice. Among other projects, she has organized public events involving outdoor projection of text written collectively by several hundred strangers over a six-hour period; printmaking marathons using skateboards, roller blades, bicycles, and all things wheeled; exhibits on the open interpretation of the book form; and environmentally sensitive installations by several artists along a walking trail. She’s a founding member, active printmaker, and administrator of Elephant Grass Print Collective, a community-based printmaking studio in the fishing village of Parker’s Cove, Nova Scotia. Following her 2016 exhibit of drawings, Geography of Bliss, Bonnie is now focusing on a series of woodcuts and etchings that explore the crossover between her drawing and printmaking practices. Bonnie is a 2016 recipient of an Established Artist Award from Creative Arts Nova Scotia.


Apr 052017




miss my friend Robin. Robin Kilson. She was a black panther who was raped by the Black Panthers. And I met her when I was fairly young and she taught me a lot about betrayal, and betweenness, and belonging. And she died ten years ago and they say not to look into the face of what is sacred and to close your eyes or to avert your eyes or maybe just cover your eyes because then your eyes are still open and what you’re seeing is something beyond sight.

I think Robin talked so much about deprivation of belonging, and all of the places that she fought to belong in and arrived at only to realize she didn’t belong and she didn’t want to belong and I wonder if she feels that way now that she’s dead.

Does she feel a sense of belonging with the dead?

She’s not my relative. There’s no blood between us but she has felt like an ancestor ever since she passed away. More of an ancestor than my own ancestors, and there’s no reason for me to belong to her but I feel that I belong to her. And somewhere there’s a long thread that hasn’t been broken between the two of us.

Most of what we talked about were broken threads. Most of the time we spent together was holding threads to see if they would reach. She was a sixty year old quadriplegic African American Black Panther and I was a 19 year old lost child in the west and we would take these strings and somehow they tied together and the knots still hold but I know for her there were strings she tried to tie to people she thought were like her, other black panthers, other women, other afro-caribbeans, other people from Boston, other professors, other people in wheelchairs, other people with shaved heads.

I don’t think the strings that we always expect to connect are the ones that hold.

But the one that we tied, has held.


I must have been around nine probably when my blood grandmother said she had a very exciting day planned. And we packed a picnic together.

There were crickets in the summer. It was absurdly green in the South in June with noises of bugs and leaves and flowers bursting out and we were making fried chicken and ham sandwiches and Dr Pepper bottles and I knew we were going for a picnic that’s all I knew that we were going for a picnic and we got in her car and we drove and we got out and it was a beautiful place but it was a cemetery and a graveyard and I asked her why we were there and she seemed so happy. And so full of joy about the surprise that was awaiting me. And this adventure that we were on. And she said I can’t tell you, I can’t tell you, and we ran through the graves in her housedress and me in my brother’s clothes like a little boy and we reached a tulip poplar tree full of huge pink flowers falling all around and she pointed glowing at the ground and she pointed and pointed and pointed and she said, look look look, here’s your grave.

And I realized somewhere that day that she had bought my funeral plot. She had gone to the cemetery and bought me my grave. And that she hadn’t done this for anyone else. It was just for her and my grandfather. And she said, So that you’ll always be here. You’ll always have a place to belong.

And we ate our fried chicken and our Dr Pepper and its bottles on this beautiful green sloping blossom-filled path, where I had been given a place to decompose.

And I realized that was not where I belonged.

I think she wanted me to lay with my ancestors but the ancestors that I had were not her.

The thread that I tried to tie to her was not a thread that tied and held.


We have pipelines threading underground. The Black Snake pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline, the black snake of prophecy that is connecting the north to the south of this continent and is burrowing through the sacred and its eyes are open but it’s not seeing. The people who are destroying the earth and tunneling through the graves of the ancestors are not seeing. Their eyes are open and they are not seeing and I want to say, go to your grave, and lie there, and open your eyes in the darkness. Who will reach out to you? When you descend that far, whose string will follow you down?

There’s a sense that the pipeline doesn’t belong. It doesn’t belong in sacred space. It doesn’t belong. Oil doesn’t mix with water. Oil doesn’t belong in our water. Gas doesn’t belong in our water. It has its own grave. Which perhaps are dinosaurs. Perhaps bringing the fossil fuels from the earth is the most ancient grave robbery we’ve ever known.

All I know is that at night when it’s dark and my eyes are open I want to reach down farther than a drill, farther than any equipment could go, to the birthplaces and death places and sacred places that are under what we take for granted.

I was raised not believing in dinosaurs. My mother said that dinosaur bones were placed in the earth by god during the seven days of creation so that when they were found in the 19th century, in the 20th century, in the 21st century, they would test the faith of the nonbelievers. And it wasn’t until I was 20 that I learned that dinosaurs were real. The black snake of oil, of gas, of fossil fuel. A fossil is a body. Is a dead body of something that was once living. That people have chosen to exploit. My grandmother decided where I would be buried while I was still alive—even at nine that felt like a form of exploitation.

How—how do we see the dead?


I was in Vienna working on a project that involved the archives of the anthropology department at the museum and there was a young anthropologist who had found some disturbing files. She was a woman, and the department was male dominated and they didn’t like her around. Interrupted their reality, I suppose. And they put her down in the vaults, which are underneath all of the beautiful Hapsburg plazas of Vienna. And she said, I’m afraid what I found is going to get me fired. And I’m afraid my supervisor will destroy them. And they have to be seen by someone who can see them. And I didn’t know what these were. She told me to bring my camera and told me I needed to see.

And I saw hair and fingernails and she explained they were from Jews collected for anthropological purposes a few days before they were murdered in the gas chambers. And each of the envelopes had a number. And each of the numbers corresponded to a name. And each of the hairs were different. Some were light, some were dark, some were straight, some were curly—there were fingernails of infants, there were fingernails of old men, everything numbered and I thought this is what I’m here to see, the remains of the dead something sacred, and she said, no there’s more. We must have to go down deeper. So we took the elevator and we went down for a long time. It was the longest elevator ride I’ve ever taken. And at the end of it were tunnels and more tunnels and at the sides of the tunnels were climate controlled—almost prison cells—but they called them archives and she opened the door with a key and there were banana boxes everywhere. As far as you could see down the metal industrial shelving cold—so cold—so far underground—banana boxes. Banana boxes from the 1930s, the 1920s, the 1950s, and then older boxes that were also fruit boxes that said—in languages from all over the world—bananas, oranges, and she looked at me and I knew I was supposed to see, I was seeing boxes of fruit but maybe if I closed my eyes I would see what she wanted me to and I did and it felt terrible down there. It felt terrible down there.

And she led me over to a box, and it was full of carefully marked femurs. And she said, this was a tribe in Niger. And we walked a little ways further and there was another row of shelves and there were orange boxes and there were newspapers and she just said, we’ll just unwrap the first newspaper. And there were finger bones and wrist bones—an assortment of tiny fragments and she said this was an aboriginal tribe in Australia and this, this continued through every continent. Another collection of fruit boxes filled with such strange fruit, and I asked her as I tried to breathe why the fruit boxes and she looked and me and she said, they so closely correspond to the size of human bones.

And I realized the orange is the hand. The fist. The black fist of Australia. Is the size of an orange on a ship brought back to a museum in Austria. And a banana is the length of the femur of a pygmy tribe in Africa, brought back by camel, by train, carried down stairs after stairs after stairs down into a cold basement in Vienna where they were fossils. And they were fossil fuels. They were fuel for hatred. They were a fuel for power. They were a fuel for control. A fuel for sadism over other people.

We don’t get to choose very often where the fossils of us remain. I don’t know how I feel about an afterlife. If Robin… The Robin I remember from the Black Panther photographs. The Robin I remember as she lay in bed dying still loudmouthed, still brave, still damaged, still full of threads.

Is she an ancestor fossil? I draw strength from her but I don’t desecrate, and I want the oil workers and the gas workers and the everyday people with their pipeline and their black snake to go down deeper. They don’t respect the fossils.

How far down do they need to go to learn respect?

And will it take their lives, as well as ours?


In the middle of the United States there’s a town called Saint Louis. There’s the Saint Louis Arch, which would go by the name of a landmark. A landmark. A mark on the land that we all can agree upon perhaps when it’s erected, when it’s an arch that’s erected in a town like Saint Louis with the Mississippi River running below this arch that connects nothing with nothing to nothing. White is not connected to black. The segregation of Saint Louis is not affected by this landmark, arch, bridge from nowhere to nowhere.

It was 1992, I feel like it was before we recognized bombs as something that could land on us, here, there were stink bombs and smoke bombs for Fourth of July. Winter. New Years Eve. A holiday where a smoke bomb could be lit off against a white bank of snow or a dusky twilight early in the evening for children to be out. A flash of magenta or a flash of turquoise the gorgeous colors of smoke bombs from roadside fireworks stands. But in 1992, I only knew magenta and turquoise and saffron and cyan as the vivid colors coming from bombs that did not explode but only smoldered.

And so I was in Saint Louis with a young man my age who was very angry. And he was not interested in smoke but he was interested in bombs. And this young man had gotten me into his car and we had driven and driven and driven—I had no idea where he was taking me and then in front of us is this archway. And an archway is a gateway is a point in a journey where you’re crossing a threshold. But the threshold was so unclear. It didn’t cross the Mississippi, it didn’t cross, nothing was connecting, it wasn’t a bridge it didn’t make sense, and then we were in the elevator. The elevator at the Saint Louis Arch is a box that ascends a staircase it rocks the shape of the architecture the bend of the steel. The chamber is so small—it’s crypt-like—your knees are touching knees and you’re rocking as the car, a cube, is making a journey up an angle that is circular and there’s the roundness that doesn’t fit with the squareness and yet by god you’re going to the top.

By god, I went to the top. And this is where the bombs were not going to be smoke bombs but incendiary bombs, explosive bombs, bombs that would bring the arch down. The arch from nowhere to nowhere would explode in the name of this boy’s anger.

At the top of the arch it’s surprisingly narrow and you lie on your stomach at a strange angle that’s not standing up or not lying down, it’s suspended but you’re supported, it’s the angle of flight but gravity is still pushing you down onto this carpeted surface and there are windows and you look out on black Saint Louis and white Saint Louis and the Mississippi River and he says to me I’m going to blow it all up. And in that moment in that position in the arch from nowhere to nowhere, the gateway was the belief that I and everyone around me was going to die. It’s not a question. Might we die. Could we die. We’re in the process of dying. It’s—we are about to die. And since that threshold, that was crossed with no visible explosion, I have never since been human again. Not in a sense of being mortal and not in a sense of being immortal, but at that angle, suspended, between lying down and standing up, lying down and standing up. Lying down and standing up. In the space in between the two where you’re at an angle, traveling towards a destination that is no longer human.


To escape this man, I got a bus going anywhere. I was in Nambé Pueblo, I was in Española, I was at a Greyhound station, it was blindingly bright and it was as far as my money would take me. Somebody—I don’t remember who—a woman, came up to me and she said you look like you need help. I’m not sure she used the word help. Then her husband was standing beside her. And I remember nothing about the word help. I just knew that I was to go with them. And when I arrived in their adobe there were ravens on the windows, one by one, each window I would look at and they, they said again this thing to me that was not help, it was not, you need our help, it was a word that I cannot remember. And they kept saying, you need, you need, and I was not lying down, I was not standing up. I was not human, I was not alive, I was not dead I was not mortal, I was not immortal, and they gave me peyote and I became a scorpion.

For five days I was a scorpion. I was not a scorpion but I was a scorpion. I was not a human who thought she was a scorpion. I was not a scorpion who thought she was a human. I was neither a scorpion nor a human. I was a human and I was a scorpion.

They told me my tail had the capacity to kill. I had never thought of myself as having the capacity to kill. I looked at myself and I was black and shiny and deadly. I had never been deadly before. For five days I was deadly. I walked. I walked outside. I walked the pueblo. I was not dead. I was not alive.

I was not human, I was not scorpion—I was deadly.

I asked them what I was supposed to do with this capacity to kill. What was I supposed to do with this capacity to cause pain? Was it justified as self-defense? Could I light this bomb of poison in the name of something like justice? Like revenge? Could it be a firework display of power to say, I can choose to make the living dead.

For five days I walked. I didn’t kill anyone.


Years later, I was working in northern Mexico, on the Tohono O’Odham. We were finding parts of women. They hardly seemed dead. They would have a leg with a shoe, and I would expect it to walk. The desert was full of bodies of women who were fossil fuels but they were desiccated and buried after they were exploited. There was no river of their blood coursing through a land of genocide, it was drying in their veins under the soil—sometimes I knew their names and sometimes… Sometimes there was no name.

I was walking in a forest in northern Europe, and there was a pile of ashes as high as I am tall. As wide as I am long. Grey. A kind of grey the sky will never turn. The kind of grey a rock will never be. Only a human incinerated will turn that color grey. It’s not forgettable.

How much have we forgotten in our landmarks? How many of us know the land on which we walk? The black snake pipeline. What does it really travel through?

Interstate 10. What does it truly travel past?

The Autobahn. Over whose ashes is it built?


I sleep at night but it’s not sleep, it’s something else. It’s not a human sleep because I don’t wake from it. All I know is there’s darkness, and I know I’m dead, and I’m lying down, I’m aware, I’m lying down and there’s darkness, and I’m dead and this lasts and it lasts and it lasts until the shapes of my room come back—the squares the circles, the angles, I sit up, I stand up, I’m upright. Upright is alive. I go outside into the desert so that I can feel the land and I feel like stomping. I feel like pounding. I feel like I should be on all appendages—scorpion legs. Human legs. Arms. Everything pounding, to let out what’s in the earth

Those who are sleeping are not quiet. Our ancestors who sleep—are they dead?

My grandfather sleeps in a green Naugahyde chair after dinner and we’re happy that he’s peaceful, we’re happy that he’s not angry, we’re happy that he’s fallen asleep after an insubstantial meal, and we go about our evening so delighted that he’s resting until we realize his chest isn’t moving, there’s nothing rising and falling, there’s no up, there’s no down—there’s just him at this angle, at this slanted angle suspended in a green Naugahyde easy chair and his heart has stopped and he’s here, but he’s not here.


For animals when they are fearing death, they have three choices. They can fight, they can take flight, or they can freeze. Those are the only three options. Those are the only three options for survival. Fight or flight or flee. And we who are not human who have not earned the title of human, those of us who are dead or have become something else—we have these choices, fight flight freeze, fight fight fight flight freeze, up down over, standing, lying, leaning.

And in the morning when the sun has come up, and I think it might be possible that I’m alive, and I stomp my feet on the desert floor—I want them to rise. I want all of them to rise. I want the trafficked women to rise. I want the genocided tribes to rise. I want the lynched to rise. I want the incinerated to rise.

Do I want them to fight? Do I want us to fight?

And I’m a scorpion again and I know I’m dead and I’m deadly and they’re dead and they’re deadly. And the living are dead and the dead are living and we’re in pain.

And I think, can this tail be used for justice? Is it possible? Can we protect and not protest? Can we have our tail and not be forced to use it? And some mornings as it turns to autumn and the fog rises from the Bosque and for a minute I think, yes, we’re rising—I can’t tell who fought back and who did not. Who froze and who fled. Who fought and who fled. Who fled then fought then froze. Who froze then fled then fought. There’s too many. There are too many. They go on. And on. And the deeper the soil and the deeper the rock the deeper they’ve climbed out and we stand and we look at each other and we say, we want justice, what do we do now?

—Quintan Ana Wikswo


Quintan Ana Wikswo is the author of The Hope Of Floating Has Carried Us This Far (Coffee House Press), a collection of photographs and stories, and a forthcoming novel with photographs, A Long Curving Scar Where The Heart Should Be (Stalking Horse Press, 2017). Other work appears in magazines such as Tin House, Guernica, Conjunctions, the Kenyon Review, and Gulf Coast, and in anthologies, artist books, and exhibition catalogues. Her projects have received multiple solo museum shows in New York City and Germany, including the Berlin Jewish Museum, F.A.C.T. (UK) and are presented in galleries such as Ronald Feldman Gallery (NYC) as well as in museum and public collections throughout the United States and Europe including the Brooklyn Museum, the Jewish Museum Munich, and People for the American Way.

This Polaroid series created during a ritual walk for Thanksgiving Day, along the Jornado del Muerto (Journey of the Dead Man) desert of El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro: the genocidal road of the Spanish conquistadors, the site of the explosion of Trinity (the plutonium infusion fission nuclear bomb), and the American Indian Wars against the Apache and other Native Nations. The bones depicted in these photographs are of the skulls of cows left chained to fence posts. Thanks to the Creative Capital fellowship and the Theo Westenberger Estate. These images are part of a multidisciplinary collaboration in progress with Matt Contos and Andrea Clearfield.


Mar 072017

Ceramic box Michel_1Ceramic box by Michel Pastore

Michel Pastore and Evelyne PorretMichel Pastore and Evelyne Porret


Long ago I lived in North Africa. I learned that among the Berber peoples, the erotic verses from the Koran are traced on the body of the bride with henna—her hands and feet, belly and breasts. On the night of her wedding, her husband licks her body and swallowing, embodies the sacred erotic.

When in the Loire Valley years later, I saw the ceramics of Michel Pastore and Evelyne Porret, I was stunned by the sight of so many domestic objects that were not only beautiful, but also somehow transcendent. In the deepening shadows the late afternoon, they sparked the air and sizzled—more like amulets and talismans than bowls and plates. I mean to say that if they were destined for domestic pleasure, their emphasis was more on the ecstatic than the domestic. This encounter remains one of the most powerful influences within my creative life. Several of the pieces I saw that day are visible below.

Around the time I returned to the United States, Michel and Evelyne moved to Fayoum, Egypt. There they built a home, a ceramics studio and a kiln of clay brick. Soon after arriving, in 1989, Evelyne opened a studio school for local children which is flourishing to this day.

In 1991, Michel, always protean, and inspired by the weavers of the ancient village of Nagada, became interested in textile and clothes design. With the Lebanese designer, Sylvia Nasralla, he opened a shop in Cairo named Nagada. (If you watch this video of a Nagada fashion show, you will be enchanted.)

— Rikki Ducornet.
Ceramic Evelyne_2Ceramics by Evelyne Porret (above and below)

Ceramic Evelyne_1
ceramic Michel 2Ceramic by Michel Pastore

House in FayoumPastore/Porret house and studio at Fayoum.

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Fayoum photos PDF-19AThe studio in Fayoum

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Pastore and Porret looking at platesPastore and Porret at the studio

First potA pot made of local clay, from the first firing in the Fayoum studio

Fayoum photos PDF-21

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Fayoum photos PDF-47

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Green box 500px

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—Ceramics by Michel Pastore & Evelyne Porret; text by Rikki Ducornet.

Evelyne Porret and Michel PastoreEvelyne Porret and Michel Pastore


Rikki DucornetRikki Ducornet

Rikki Ducornet is the author of eight novels as well as collections of short stories, essays, and poems. She has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, is a two-time honoree of the Lannan Foundation, and the recipient of an Academy Award in Literature. Widely published abroad, she is also a book illustrator and painter who exhibits internationally. Her work is held by the Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende in Chile, McMaster University Museum in Canada, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Rikki lives in Port Townsend, Washington.


Mar 032017

Hirondelle drawing IMG_0992Aperture 14, 16″ x 16″

Anne Hirondelle in her studio


Hirondelle’s beginnings as an artist were with clay. For over 20 years she was drawn to the vessel as an abstraction and metaphor for containment taking ideas from traditional functional pots and stretching them into architectural and organic sculptural forms. In 2002, to explore more formal ideas she abandoned her signature glazes for unglazed white stoneware and moved the work from the horizontal to the vertical plane. A year later she began painting the surfaces. Simultaneously, her drawings, once ancillary to the sculpture, took on a life of their own. Derived from the ceramic forms, drawn with graphite and colored pencil on multiple layers of tracing paper, they are further explorations of abstraction.

Her latest exhibition, Anne Hirondelle: Small Revolutions, runs February 11-April 30, 2017 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. The exhibition, which features ceramic work and drawings, takes its title from the poem, “Still Life with Fire” by David Fenza.

We shift in our naked repose, restless,
because, if we are clay, the fingerprints
of our Maker must be within & upon us;
& after the Potter’s wheel is still, we still turn
with small revolutions of faith & doubt
as we style who & what to leave out
& who & what to hold within.

—David W. Fenza

All images are graphite and prisma color on layered tracing paper.

Hirondelle drawing IMG_0991Aperture 12, 16″ x 16″


Hirondelle drawing IMG_0993Partners 1, 17″ x 23″


Hirondelle drawing IMG_0994Partners 2, 17″ x 23″


Hirondelle drawing IMG_0995Partners 3, 17″ x 23″


Hirondelle drawing IMG_1011Partners 4, 17″ x 23″


Hirondelle drawing IMG_1002Triptych, overall 16″ x 40″ framed (individual images 10″ x 10″)


Hirondelle drawing IMG_1003Slide 1, 16″ x 16″


Hirondelle drawing IMG_1004Slide 2, 16″ x 16″


Hirondelle drawing IMG_1005Slide 3, 16″ x 16″


Hirondelle drawing IMG_1006Slide 4, 16″ x 16″

—Anne Hirondelle

Anne Hirondelle working in studio

Anne Hirondelle was born in Vancouver, Washington, in 1944 and spent her childhood as a farm girl near Salem, Oregon. She received a BA in English from the University of Puget Sound (1966) and an MA in counseling from Stanford University (1967). Hirondelle moved to Seattle in 1967 and directed the University YWCA until 1972. She attended the School of Law at the University of Washington for a year before discovering and pursuing her true profession, first in the ceramics program at the Factory of Visual Arts in Seattle (1973-74), and later in the BFA program at the University of Washington (1974-76). Anne Hirondelle has lived and worked in Port Townsend, Washington, since 1977.

Hirondelle has exhibited nationally in one-person and group shows including: New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Scottsdale and Seattle. Her pieces are in myriad private and public collections including: The White House Collection in the Clinton Library, Little Rock, AR; The Museum of Arts and Design, NY; The L.A. County Art Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum.

She was the recipient of an NEA Fellowship for the Visual Arts in 1988. In 2004, Anne was a finalist for the Seattle Art Museum’s Betty Bowen Award. In 2009 her accomplishments were recognized by the Northwest Arts Community with the Yvonne Twining Humber Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. The University of Washington Press published Anne Hirondelle: Ceramic Art, a book about her work in February, 2012. In 2014, she was one of four Washington State artists selected to participate in the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) Program.


David W. Fenza is a poet and the Executive Director of the Association Of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP). “Still Life with Fire” is published at NC with his permission.



Feb 072017

Kate Evans at work.


—Kate Evans


Kate Evans, author, mother, artist and cartoonist, lives in the West of England with her husband, two children and two cats. Her latest book Red Rosa: a graphic biography of Rosa Luxemburg was released by Verso, November 2015, to general acclaim.

She is also the author of graphic non-fiction books The Food of Love: your formula for successful breastfeeding, Bump: how to make, grow and birth a baby and Funny Weather: everything you didn’t want to know about climate change but probably should find out. The above comic now forms the first chapter of her forthcoming, feature-length graphic novel Threads from the refugee crisis, to be released Spring 2017 from Verso Books. Blog: Twitter: @cartoonkate.




Feb 012017

Jugando con Candela 2016 oil on canvas 40 x 30 in 500pxJugando con Candela, 2016 — oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

Ramon Alejandro


A few short months ago, Rikki Ducornet introduced me to the paintings of the Cuban-born artist Ramón Alejandro. Awe and delight. Then she introduced me to the man, and we’ve been corresponding ever since. Awe and delight squared. Ramón Alejandro is an inspiration and an avatar. When he lived in Paris, he was written about but no less than Roland Barthes, who admired his robotic giants and specifically referred to his aimiability  — “son amabilité (ce qui fait qu’on l’aime)”. He’s genuine, wise, prolific and warm. The paintings are gorgeous, outsized, sun-drenched. He makes me think of the line from Don Quixote: “There might giants.” And the giantish “sons of God” in the Old Testament. A world under the sign of the imagination, more alive than life itself.

But to give you the flavour of the man, here is a bit from an email he wrote to me before Christmas. We were talking about the roots of his art, his cheerful and migratory life (he lives in Miami now). This is how all artists should be.

It helped me to be radical in my choice that one of my father’s usual phrases was that when one was no good for anything one could always become an artist. He was also born into a family that raised cattle for milk and cheese and apple trees for cider in Asturias in northern Spain. The mountains did not permit planting many crops in such a hilly landscape and the pieces of land were too small for those who had a whole lot of children to feed. Most young people had to go to America to make a living. He was a real disciple of Diogenes the Great without knowing anything about the Cynic school of philosophers or any other philosophy, but he had managed to make one for himself out of his life experience. I chose the wisdom of Aristippus of Cyrene also before knowing anything about his existence. Generally, all the arts, and pleasure itself by the way, are a real scandal for most of those who were brought up outside city limits. I was kind of lucky that my grandfather on my mother’s side was a marvelous copyist of ancient paintings in the Prado Museum in Madrid. He failed to be a good painter himself, but art and literature was all that counted for him in life. He was my inspiration though — or maybe just because — he was never able to earn his life decently, and when he and his wife became old, by the time I knew him the short time of my first 13 years, had to be materially taken care of by the husbands of his two daughters. I love all mythologies, religions, musics, paintings, poetries and philosophies but do not believe in any of them. I think that deep inside I don’t even believe in Reality or in the different ways of conceiving it. All of them have been my movies and TV since I was a child. And lately I have had the feeling I will be including more and more divinities in my paintings.

The paintings we’re featuring on NC this month are brand new, and they are part of a show of Ramón’s work currently up at the Latin Art Core gallery in Miami.



La Guanabana 2003 oil on canvas 20 x 24 in 500pxLa Guanabana, 2003 — oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in.


Aprendiz de Brujo 2015 oil on canvas 24 x 24 in 500pxAprendiz de Brujo, 2015 — oil on canvas, 24 x 24 in.


Virgen de Medianoche 2015 oil on canvas 24 x 18 in 500pxVirgen de Medianoche, 2015 —— oil on canvas, 24 x 18 in.


Demonio del Mediodia 2015 oil on canvas 24 x 18 in 500pxDemonio del Mediodia, 2015 — oil on canvas, 24 x 18 in.


Detras de la Cruz esta el demonio 2016 oil on canvas 40 x 30 in 500pxDetras de la Cruz esta el demonio, 2016 — oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

xEl universo esta iluminado por las llamas del Infierno 2016 oil on canvas 40 x 30 in 500pxEl universo esta iluminado por las llamas del Infierno, 2016 — oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.


Combustion Espontanea 2016 oil on canvas 40 x 30 in 500pxCombustion Espontanea, 2016 — oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.


Energy flows in both opposite directions 2016 oil on canvas 24 x 24 in 500pxEnergy flows in both opposite directions, 2016 — oil on canvas. 24 x 24 in.

——Ramón Alejandro

Latin Art Core expoCurrent show at Latin Art Core gallery, Miami.

José Ramón Alejandro is a Cuban painter and writer. Since the late 1960s, his work has appeared in one-man shows in private galleries in Paris, Geneva, and Miami, as part of exhibitions in Israel and cities across Europe, and in exhibits of limited edition books illustrated by artists of note. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Bibliothèque Municipale d’Angers in France, the San Diego Art Museum, and the Miami-Dade Public Library all include his works in their permanent collections.
Alejandro left Havana in the 1960s to live in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Paris, where he stayed for thirty years. In 1995, he moved to Miami. There he founded Editions Deleatur, a publisher focusing on Cuban writers within Cuba and abroad. Alejandro and his work are the subject of the essay collection Ramón Alejandro (L’Atelier des Brisants, 2006).


Jan 012017



Slide film provides an amazing experience. Slides come to life in front of any kind of brightness, creating little lightboxes – readymade, modern stereographs. Their tiny size commands curiosity and an inherent intimacy. They can be handheld, and they glow with brilliance and sharpness. Slides convince you. It’s enough to make you believe they are miniature versions of what happened.

I believe every photograph is a memory, an exact moment of time and space. By combining photographs, I am conflating accounts, adding them together and forming new stories. Domestic interiors are overrun with something unexpected, something other. The incredibly banal shifts into the transcendent, and so on. I’m interested in how the present influences the past, and I’m investigating why we selectively remember or forget. I’m fascinated that our history is constantly changing, that something so seemingly concrete can slip away. I welcome the surreal, psychedelic and uncanny.

I investigate how to construct images and depict pictorial space. I engage the public through the use of multiple slide projectors, kinetic machines, double-sided projection screens, custom-made viewing boxes and lenses. I create a sense of depth that flutters like paintings, in and out, between conceivable and awfully flat. I’m interested in this kind of visual ambling and how it differs from the source material of photographs. Unlike paintings, photographs are captured at once, coming to be immediately – the relic of an instant.   — Mark Reamy




Notes on images: Images 1.–14. Digital photographs of two 35mm slides on a light table, 20″ x 30″. Image 15. Digital photograph of six 35mm slides on light table, 20″ x 30″. Image 16. TOP: Wooden structure housing 3D-printed component, which holds a magnifying glass, two slides, light, diffusing screen and battery. Just hit the switch on the side, the light comes on, and you can see the image inside the cube box. BOTTOM: The view inside. 12″ x 12″ x 8″.


mark-reamy-portfolio-page-001-croppedImage 1. Canada (2014)


mark-reamy-portfolio-page-002-croppedImage 2. State Route (2014)


mark-reamy-portfolio-page-003-croppedImage 3. Wave (2015)


mark-reamy-portfolio-page-004-croppedImage 4. Michigan (2016)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-005-croppedImage 5. Neighbors (2016)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-006-croppedImage 6. Parking Lot (2016)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-007-croppedImage 7. Window (2015)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-008-croppedImage 8. Corner Lot (2016)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-009-croppedImage 9. Development (2015)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-010-croppedImage 10. Thoroughfare (2015)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-011-croppedImage 11. Canal (2016)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-012-croppedImage 12. Strip Mall (2014)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-013-croppedImage 13. Resort (2015)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-014-croppedImage 14. Mountainside (2015)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-015-croppedImage 15. Beach Day (2016)

mark-reamy-portfolio-page-016Image 16. Light Cubes (2016)


Hailing from the Midwest, Mark Reamy received his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2010. Since graduating, he balances freelance commercial work with his studio practice. Whether it’s rebranding local companies, illustrating a children’s book for Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles, or exhibiting an eight-foot disco ball, Reamy engages his audience within a collaborative, curious, and contemplative spirit.

After an artist residency tour of the United States throughout 2015, Reamy received the Staff Artist Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center, where he will reside throughout 2016. He will also be an artist-in-residence at the Youngeun Museum of Contemporary Art in South Korea in 2017.


Dec 022016

hallucineMovement Is The Antechamber Of Hallucination 32” x 40” 28.3.2016


The daughter of glow-worms painting portraits of mysterious females and the reindeer’s ghostly double, all perfectly cracked like glass, like an intrusion, like a flight into the obscurity of uncharted whispering. A slight touch on the shoulder, the movement of an affair between invasion and emanation, the pitch of bone against bone, faces merging in the moisture of a single word chosen among all the others. A vampire word…


Clarity is often a flower burning a table out of a corpse, an immoral sense of having secretive codes, acknowledgements of a tentative gambling, a mere walk in the park. The spores of wild animals, the crawling of your flesh, light growing on water. Words like landmines.


The glow between living and ceasing to live, emulates the long-legged cascade in her whispering circuitry, the gaze of rain is corrupted film, caught in the act, disguised by pleasure purring in gradually brightening passwords. The catapult of an unfinished sentence, turned to provoke, to stroke and latent in state, the light separates your body from its own darkness.


The ancient horned flower of your psyche attracts the devoted milking machines, the aboriginal veins of a fabric that propels your footsteps as determined as her threads slipping into light, vanishing in the blink of an eye.


navigateAnd still the navigators 38’ x 38” 27.6.2016


Dark and greedy, the always secret and ever vanishing body of torrential mirroring.


Dark gravitational assignations seduced into amulets the color of glass, evolving in sequential chiaroscuro, tempting blood where (in the Manor of Sighs) the barbarian sign language seizes the images of your being in the rich, antiquarian lucidity of your extinction. Your face, or the features of night in the fever of graceful spirits that still come to drink the liquid of life out of your hands, the pendulum… An evening of theater runs ahead…


Trapping belladonna between the lines, between her legs, between phases, to embrace the blindness of your murmuring, pushing out between her lips, the lost hermeticism of albino checkmates.


Black pyramid of erratic nights, sphinx crystal for abnormal motion, language absorbed by light hibernating in darkness, invisible shield, hormones of endless fusion and refusing to chalk the edges of bodily words taking root. On a street corner in another country, where the wheels of dance herald small but irreplaceable transgressing devices, shedding deceptions buzzing with veiled faces. You are sleeping with the enemy, unafraid and glorious.


An intimacy of longing dwells in us like words that have no meaning, but animal cries, torn linen, a loving defiance…


sirensSirens In The Evening House… 40″ x 66” 5.1.2016

Sirens In The Evening House… 40″ x 66” 5.1.2016*

One superb maneuver is the moon under your skin that pivots on the bones of a spider’s web, when it shines in the eyes of the animals that come close to you for light.


Bright calipers of the alloy-laden arch, light-birthing heaviness, a fire between the air and the water, the arc of the dive into disappearance. Desire is not beautiful, but an invisible flame, a knife thrust into the heart, a moment of oblivion. The figure is translated, disfigured and set spinning into the tall and languid codes of light, violent codes, aching darkness of codes deceiving stature… who is dismantled. Words pulled out of lead. Breath of crystal. The rain of deer in the plateau of whispers…


A bright spirit made of wolves, a throat in the fountain of analogies.


Neither life nor death, but the same descent, the same loping, transfiguring, moving across the edges highlighted in ivory as bright as sunlight clutching at animal optics, scavenging, sight-shaping all the female phantoms in a row, crawling with antlers through the moth-memory of an escape hatch bigger than the either and the or… where the bell-veil toys with the heretic and his contraries, introducing a vow worthy of destruction, sealed with a kiss.


Highly unreasonable notations raise pinnacles outside of the hour, narrate plumes, positions of sleep. The air spirals and sudden sparks. Your body of the orchid feast, thief of the mask. Night hood. “Teach me how to kill, and I will teach you how to love…” Only the wail of silence, in acrobat, even yourself hieroglyphing in lunar light.


The slow movement of her hand, the reflections cast by night, travelling by déjà vu.


The visual works I make are photo-based digital collages created in Photoshop, using printed media scanned into the computer, then using many layers, cloning, erasures. This allows taking the essence of collage quite beyond cut and paste. It becomes a much more fluid conjuration of matter, transforming the everyday into a magical space, where anything is possible. The sizes of the images are always approximate. Although, usually larger, depending upon whim. Since these live on the computer, they are subject to change.

—J. Karl Bogartte



J. Karl Bogartte, born September 8, 1944, of Dutch and Irish descent, is both an artist and poet, schooled in anthropology, photography and various esoteric traditions. He has been an active participant in international surrealism for more than 50 years, and cofounder of La Belle Inutile Éditions.  He presently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bogartte, is both an artist and poet, having published eight books of poetic writings: The Mirror held Up In Darkness, The Wolf House, Secret Games, Luminous Weapons, Primal Numbers, A Curious Night For A Double Eclipse, Auré, The Spindle’s Arc, and Antibodies: A Surrealist Novella.  Long aligned with international surrealism, Bogartte is also a cofounder of La Belle Inutile Éditions. His work has appeared in the following anthologies:  ANALOGON #65, Melpomene, Hydrolith #1 and #2, La vertèbre et le rossignol #4, Peculiar Mormyrid #2, Paraphilia,  and The Fiend online journal.


Nov 062016




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Studio Stills

img_0924Wave 16-1, 12x13x7″, stoneware and paint

img_0921Wave Cradle 16-1, 13x14x6″, stoneware and paint

img_0922Wave Cradle 16-2, 13x15x5.5″, stoneware and paint

img_0917Wave Cradle 16-3, 13.5x15x5.5″, stoneware and paint

img_0911Partners 16-1, 18x12x4″, stoneware, paint and birch wood

img_0913Partners 16-2, 11.5x16x5″, stoneware, paint and birch wood

img_0915Partners 16-3, 13x20x4″, stoneware, paint and birch wood

img_0916Partners 16-4, 13.5x22x5″, stoneware, paint and birch wood

img_0912Partners 16-5, 14x21x4″, stoneware, paint and birch wood

img_0914Partners 16-6, 15x22x4″, stoneware, paint and birch wood

—Anne Hirondelle


Anne Hirondelle was born in Vancouver, Washington, in 1944 and spent her childhood as a farm girl near Salem, Oregon. She received a BA in English from the University of Puget Sound (1966) and an MA in counseling from Stanford University (1967). Hirondelle moved to Seattle in 1967 and directed the University YWCA until 1972. She attended the School of Law at the University of Washington for a year before discovering and pursuing her true profession, first in the ceramics program at the Factory of Visual Arts in Seattle (1973-74), and later in the BFA program at the University of Washington (1974-76). Anne Hirondelle has lived and worked in Port Townsend, Washington, since 1977.

Hirondelle’s beginnings as an artist were with clay. For over 20 years she was drawn to the vessel as an abstraction and metaphor for containment taking ideas from traditional functional pots and stretching them into architectural and organic sculptural forms. In 2002, to explore more formal ideas she abandoned her signature glazes for unglazed white stoneware and moved the work from the horizontal to the vertical plane. A year later she began painting the surfaces. Simultaneously, her drawings, once ancillary to the sculpture, took on a life of their own. Derived from the ceramic forms, drawn with graphite and colored pencil on multiple layers of tracing paper, they are further explorations of abstraction.

Hirondelle has exhibited nationally in one-person and group shows including: New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Scottsdale and Seattle. Her pieces are in myriad private and public collections including: The White House Collection in the Clinton Library, Little Rock, AR; The Museum of Arts and Design, NY; The L.A. County Art Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum.

She was the recipient of an NEA Fellowship for the Visual Arts in 1988. In 2004, Anne was a finalist for the Seattle Art Museum’s Betty Bowen Award. In 2009 her accomplishments were recognized by the Northwest Arts Community with the Yvonne Twining Humber Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. The University of Washington Press published Anne Hirondelle: Ceramic Art, a book about her work in February, 2012. In 2014, she was one of four Washington State artists selected to participate in the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) Program.


Oct 012016

fiveravensFive Ravens



Over the course of recorded history, many profound intellectuals have contemplated the nature of mathematics. Albert Einstein believed that math was nothing more than “a product of human thought,” which caused him to wonder how its principles could seem “so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality.” In contrast, Johan Kepler believed that mathematics was an inherent feature of the Universe, famously stating, “geometry existed before creation.” But regardless of one’s philosophical leanings, it’s obvious that, from the curious perspective of a human mind, Nature seems to be “written in the language of mathematics” (Galileo Galilei).

A few million years before Einstein, Kepler, and Galileo mused about the Universe, the concept of mathematics likely originated from an evolutionary breakthrough that happened before modern humans ever walked the earth. When hominids emerged from their primate ancestors, they gained a powerful ability to recognize patterns in the natural world, which allowed them to comprehend cause-and-effect in a way that had never been achieved by any other species. Their ability to understand and predict patterns of behavior in wildlife allowed hominids to become effective hunters and trappers, despite their relatively weak and slow physiology; their ability to recognize patterns of physical correlation allowed them to manipulate different materials to create novel technologies (e.g. tools, clothing, housing, etc.); and their ability to understand and predict seasonal patterns would eventually lead to the development of agriculture. All of these examples illustrate that hominids’ pattern recognition fostered a myriad of practical evolutionary benefits. But along with these utilitarian advantages, this ability also provided a cognitive foundation for creative expression and this would eventually lead to the earliest known forms of visual art.

In 2014, the Leiden Museum carbon dated a collection of prehistoric cutting utensils found on the Indonesian island of Java. The tools were constructed from mussel shells by Homo Erectus, a primitive species of hominid that is closely related to modern humans. While this technology was relatively typical for the time period, researchers noticed that there was something quite atypical about these tools: some of them were engraved with zigzagging lines and the arrangement of the patterns demonstrated a high degree of intent. With no reasonable inference regarding their practical value, the researchers had to assume that the lines were made for aesthetic purposes. When the tools were tested, the results indicated that the shells were roughly 500 000 years old (300 000 years older than any previously discovered artwork); this suggested that hominids developed conceptual thought much earlier than previously believed. But with regard to mathematics, since these artifacts were made roughly 400 000 years before any known stone figurines or cave paintings, it also suggested that geometry – not figurative images – inspired the first aesthetic creations.

When hominids evolved into modern humans, they developed an ever-growing fascination with Nature. And undoubtedly, as they explored, examined, and experienced their environment, they would have noticed, even before the concept of geometry was developed, that the Universe often structures itself in aesthetically balanced forms. The circle, the pinnacle of balance in geometry, was likely the first shape to capture their attention. The sun and the moon were (and still are) omnipresent features of life on earth, and I imagine that our ancestors would have frequently gazed skyward to appreciate their seemingly perfect form. But Nature’s creations go far beyond the circle: from the radial symmetry of flowers, to the logarithmic spirals of mollusk shells, to the fractal scaling of succulents – geometry pervades the Cosmos. To early humans, these elaborate arrangements must have represented an underlying order, a guiding spiritual force that created and organized the Universe. So unsurprisingly, mathematical arrangements played a significant role in early religious art .

As humans moved out of Africa and spread across the globe, they split into numerous civilizations, all with unique beliefs and practices. But despite their profound diversity, all cultures had some form of visual art, with the vast majority incorporating mathematical arrangements. Some symbols, such as the “flower of life” (a series of overlapping circles arranged to form a floral pattern) and the Pentagram (a five-pointed star made of a continuous line), were found on artifacts from pre-classic Greece (and in all likelihood were developed by earlier tribal civilizations); other symbols are still in use today: Taoism’s “yin yang” (2-fold rotational symmetry), Judaism’s “star of David” (3-fold radial symmetry) and the “Caduceus” (1-fold reflection symmetry) are all ancient geometric forms that have survived through the ages into modernity.

But these techniques were not limited to the “Old World,” and, in the Americas, many indigenous cultures used geometry in their art work – including my Salish ancestors. While Coast Salish culture didn’t create semiotic symbols like many European civilizations, they did create visual art (spindle whorls, rattles, house-posts, etc.) with animal and floral forms that utilized the same geometric techniques found around the world. These design elements have been carried into modern Salish art and have been expanded upon by the contemporary master, Susan Point, and subsequently, by the newest generation of Salish artists, such as lessLie , Maynard Johnny, Chris Paul, and myself.

As I began to study Salish design, I became enamoured with the geometric techniques used by my ancestors. This inspired me to widen my research, and I engaged in an expansive study of traditional geometry in other cultures. In this exploration, I became particularly fond of two styles: the Asian mandala and Islamic tessellations.

Mandalas are geometric images that represent the Cosmos, which are used as a meditation tool in some Buddhist and Hindu cultures. They traditionally consist of a circle that is enclosed in a larger square with four t-shaped gates, all structured using 2-fold reflection symmetry. Some of these designs show characteristics of fractal geometry – meaning shapes that show similarity at every scale (such as a mandala within a mandala within a mandala etc.). Modified versions of these techniques became an integral part of my artistic style – a style that would eventually lead to the works in Sacred Geometry.

Islamic art has had an equally strong influence on my creative development. Unlike Christianity and Judaism – whose worshippers have a long history of producing depictions of religious figures (e.g. Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” or the Tzippori Synagogue Mosiac), idolatry is considered blasphemous in Islam. As a result, their cultural art diverged from the other Abrahamic religions, and Muslim artists created many unique art forms, such as calligraphy and tessellations. Tessellations are infinitely repeatable patterns consisting of a series of identical shapes (called tiles) that fit together to form a larger design. A checker board is one of the simplest forms of tessellation (a series of identical squares), but Muslim artists took the concept to a remarkable level of complexity. From the 7th century through the entire Middle Ages, in South Asia, The Middle East, North Africa, and Europe, Muslim artists decorated rugs, ceramics, architecture and much more with these awe-inspiring patterns. Using little more than straight lines (a detail that would play a significant role in the development of my exhibit), Muslim artists created intricate designs with interlacing and overlapping polygons and circles that often unite to create star and floral forms. The symbolic value of these tessellations adds the sacred element to the geometry: the circular shapes represent the paradoxical unity and diversity of existence, and the pattern’s infinite nature (i.e., its geometric ability to expand forever) represents the boundless possibilities of the divine realm.

The modern master of mathematical art, M.C. Escher, credited Islamic geometry as the inspiration for his renowned woodblock prints. In 1936, he visited a Moorish mosque in southern Spain and was enthralled by its tessellated architecture. Escher (and at his request, his wife) feverishly tried to sketch the various patterns for later imitation. After this visit, Escher engaged in years of study and practice, until eventually he was ready to reveal his unique twist on the tessellation. But he believed that “capricious patches of abstract geometric figures” would hold “little meaning” for his audience and that his tessellations would only be appreciated if they were recognized as “clear symbols of people, animals, [and] things…” But this is where my artistic intentions diverge from the master.

Considering the artistic era that Escher lived in, it’s not surprising that he had a deep passion for figurative art, which had been a nearly universal convention for centuries prior. But while Escher was developing his geometric style in the 1930s, Modernists were shouting, “make it new,” and developing an aesthetic world space that would transcend the fetters of artistic tradition. The Modernists would, in time, essentially change the definition of fine art, but at the beginning of Escher’s career, these new creative movements were still quite divisive. Taking into account the divided nature of the zeitgeist, mixed with Escher’s formal training in illustration (an extremely figurative medium), it’s easy to understand why his art took its specific form – a form that I’m forever grateful to have known and studied.

But since the 1930s, artistic culture has traveled through a vast range of movements, which, during Escher’s development, had yet to be imagined – one of which being Minimalism. Following the Modernist currents towards Post-Modernity, some artist drifted further and further from the verisimilitude that had dominated art for most of recorded history. And in the early 1960s, some New York City artists – such as Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, and Ellsworth Kelly – were creating abstract paintings with simple geometric forms that lacked any notion of figurative imagery. Since these artists weren’t overly concerned with imitating objective reality or even representing objective reality through a unique perspective, they were able to focus on the subtle aesthetic aspects of their paintings (such as contrast, weight, balance, orientation, etc.), which created works with an understated but powerful effect. Considering the enduring legacy of these artists, I believe that their work has demonstrated that, contrary to Escher’s opinion, “capricious patches of abstract geometric figures” can be meaningful, if they exist in an appropriate artistic atmosphere. And by abandoning the religious, naturalistic, and humanistic meanings of the past, Minimalist art carries a meaning that, in my opinion, is at the pure center of all creative endeavors, a meaning that has slowly become my primary artistic focus – which is to represent that mysterious and elusive quality known as beauty.

As I continue my studies of visual art, it seems as though the more I learn about aesthetics (i.e. the nuanced details create and emphasize beauty), the less I intellectually understand the concept; this is likely because beauty doesn’t operate on the intellect and is, by nature, not rational. But it wouldn’t be appropriate to call beauty irrational either. A far more accurate term, one used by the philosopher Ken Wilber, is trans-rational, because it seems to operate on something much deeper than the intellect, what some might call the heart or soul or spirit. In my experience, beauty only fully manifests when the intellect subsides, when the mind goes quiet and all “hows” and “whys” disappear. There’s no rational value in gazing at a midnight sky punctured with mysterious light from distant worlds or the radiant spread of red hues rising in a twilight fade from the horizon – but, for me, only the trans-rational aspects of life can give meaning to existence. Or, as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, “We have art so we may not perish by truth.”

My growing devotion to aesthetics helped me set the parameters for this exhibit: I decided to let my intuitions about geometric beauty guide every creative decision. This meant prioritizing aesthetics over the figurative elements (i.e., animal forms) that I was accustomed to using in my traditional Salish art. Although animal images do appear in a few pieces, those specific designs developed organically – meaning they only took a figurative shape if, in the designing process, it seemed to happen on its own. The appearance of figurative art among these images might be due to some quasi-Pavlovian impulse that developed from years of Salish designing – illustrating that artistic habits, like all habits, also die hard. But regardless of their origin, I’m happy with the results.

In the past, I’ve enjoyed the puzzle-like challenge of arranging animals to fit my aesthetic vision and taste. But the designing process for Sacred Geometry was a refreshing change in my practice. I surrendered control to the mathematics, and with nothing more than a little refinement, the designs essentially built themselves based on the geometric processes I applied. This manner of working felt much more natural than any designing I had done previously – so natural that, more often than not, I hardly felt involved. While the idea might seem cliché and is often perceived as pseudo-spiritual hyperbole, I (and numerous people I have talked to) know firsthand that, in those purest moments of expression, art seems to be created through you, not by you. And I can say, without a hint of exaggeration, that these experiences are the sacred aspect of creating art.

The other constraint I set for myself was to design using only straight lines and circles, a style that I serendipitously discovered while sketching. I loved the idea of creating art with such simple structures – so simple, in fact, that they are almost always the first structures that a child learns to draw. Take, for example, a toddler’s stick figure: it generally consists of a circle head, circle eyes, a half circle mouth to form the obligatory smile, with straight lines creating the torso and limbs. But what, I wondered, would be possible if I restricted myself to these fundamental aesthetic tools? When I first started working with the constraint, I thought that the possibilities would be limited; at most, I hoped to get a small series of designs from the concept. But to my surprise (and ecstatic delight), I found that the potential was much greater than I anticipated. As I experimented, more and more avenues for creation presented themselves, with a surprising range of diversity. Within a month or so, I knew that I had the concept. And, more importantly, I knew that I had discovered a new creative world space that I could return to for the rest of my life.

Some might consider the art in Sacred Geometry more contemporary than my other work, and, in a way, it certainly is. But in another sense, this work is more traditional than anything I have done before – because it draws on a tradition that started before my Salish ancestors ever carved a spindle whorl on the Pacific Coast, a tradition that started before the first human crafted a symbol to honor the earliest conception of God, a tradition that even started before Homo Erectus carved that first pattern into a mussel shell. It’s a tradition that started in the big bang (and according to Kepler, even before), that first moment of creation when, in a mysterious Cosmic exhalation, Spirit took a three-dimensional form and started building the Universe according to timeless laws of geometry.

—Dylan Thomas

brave-new-whorlBrave New Whorl






tipping-pointTipping Point




Born in Victoria, in 1986, Qwul`thilum (Dylan Thomas) is a Coast Salish artist from the Lyackson First Nation, originally from Valdes Island. Dylan was exposed to the art at a young age because his family continues to participate in their culture and tradition. He has trained in jewelery with Seletze (Delmar Johnnie) and has apprenticed under Rande Cook in all mediums of the art. Rande has also been a major help in the development of Dylan`s design. His other artistic influences have been late Art Thompson, Susan Point and Robert Davidson.

The images reproduced here were originally produced for Thomas’s first solo show at the Alcheringa Gallery in Victoria, British Columbia, which opened in August.


Sep 062016

Dave Kennedy A view to a passageway_working_Dave Kennedy

Anamorphosis is showing at Bridge Productions in Seattle, September 7 – October 1. The opening is Wednesday, September 7, 6-9 pm, Bridge Productions, Hamilton Work Studios, 2nd Floor, 6007 12th Ave S, Seattle.


Anamorphosis is an ancient representational technique; you deform the image of the object so that from a certain angle it looks like one thing and from another angle a different image appears (sort of). A classic example is Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting The Ambassadors, with its anamorphic skull. In that instance, the technique is allegorical, a reminder that we will all die. For Dave Kennedy, the technique is also allegorical, but in this case it’s a reminder that things are not what they seem, identity is unstable, even untrustworthy. He uses photos, photocopies, bits of cast off material, explodes and reconstructs images of what conventionally are not aesthetic objects, dingy street scenes, junk lumber. So not only is Kennedy calling identity into question, he is also subverting the idea of a conventional aesthetic and the relative value of objects in our society, a subversion that, yes, extends to our identities as people (think: race, ethnicity, social class).

In his artist’s statement, he writes:

He [Kennedy] creates an augmented reality based on his surroundings, documenting various street scenes, walls, fences, detritus, and everyday objects; shooting nearly hundreds of images of the subject matter. They are recreated by tiling the image, printing them out on 8 x 11 or 11 x 17 copy paper, and stitching the individual ‘pixels’ together to form a large-scale print with jagged borders, or an assemblage of an exploded view much like a photographic blueprint. He then opts to affix an actual or facsimile object from the scene to the printed piece, further thwarting our ability to gauge what is ‘real’ versus ‘image’.

One that lends significance to places, objects, and things, elevating them through a process of familiarity. The details noticed become representations of reality. They represent both what they are and something else, at the same time. Such symbols allow for a different way of seeing the self, not as a mirror but as an access point. They act as elements that allow the viewer to explore and possibly complicate the narratives that are firmly affixed in normative presumptions.

This special manner of viewing, human subjectivities and more individualized identifications are seen as something that can become knowable. Anamorphosis is a metaphor for reimagining and expanding on appearances, as well as, overcoming “Otherness”— more in the sense that when someone is seen as less than, or as an object, this perspective can then be appropriated and re-loaded with more poignant meanings that point towards agency and autonomy.

As happens now and then on NC, Kennedy’s statement provoked a conversation (via email), which is really worth reprinting here.

DG: Let me ask you a couple of questions. When you say “less regarded spaces and objects”, what do you mean? And what drew you to such spaces and objects. As I see them, they are the objects and spaces that we pass over in life as unartistic, not aesthetic subjects. It’s kind of a rebellion against an unconsciously accepted conventional aesthetic, to render the “unaesthetic” aesthetic with your art and thus in an extended sense to reshape identity.

One of the guiding stars at NC is the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky who said that the purpose of art was to take the ordinary, the things we pass over in the process of conventional seeing, and process them (make the “strange”) by representing them inside aesthetic form (techniques and structure). His idea was to slow down perception, which has become too conventional. We don’t actually see things anymore.

Dave Kennedy: On “less regarded spaces and objects”: Douglas, what you wrote about objects, spaces, aesthetics and rebellion.. rendering the “unaesthetic” aesthetic to reshape identity is both beautiful, concise, and exactly what I’m pointing to. I would love it if you included this. In addition, here’s how I got to this…

I grew up in a WWII housing project in the Pacific Northwest. Due to a lack of government funding various parts of my neighborhood were left in a constant state of disrepair. “Under Construction” each street block seemed to have many ethnicities represented which was accompanied by a lot of racism bred of misunderstanding.  Personally, my mother is Italian and Eritrean, and my father Native American. So I didn’t look like one ethnic group or another and I would walk these multicultural city blocks alone, looking for someone else like me. It was common for people to make assumptions of what I was: Mexican, Samoan, Black. “What are you?!” My response to these objectifying guesses and questions is embedded in my practice and my exploration of an expanded view into unseen subjectivities.

Growing up in these spaces where other people did not want me to be. Places in various states of repair and ruin, provided me with a playground where I could escape this bias and bigotry. Lately I’ve been returning to these memories and attempting to reveal the marvelous that is often hidden in the aspects of life that we find quite ordinary while extending the availability of alternate roles to the subjects, places and objects I am finding.

On “reshaping identity”: First, thank you. It’s quite a distinction to be “fitting in” with Viktor Shklovsky…  Andrei Tarkovsky once wrote: “The goal for all art – is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what [a human] lives for, what is the meaning of [their] existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question.”

The action of deconstructing spaces and objects — these images, with my camera and then adhering the tiled photo copy sections back together feels like a performance of investigation that culminates in a space for meditation. The photocopy allows me to physically take apart the image and put it back together. I do this in part because I believe that social constructs are stories that can be taken apart and told differently.

We need an alternative definition of reality. One that allows us to reconsider the beliefs that we bring to what we see.

The details that I notice become representations of my reality. They represent both what they are and something else, at the same time. Such symbols, in my opinion, allow for a different way of seeing the self, not as a mirror but as an access point. They act as elements that allow the viewer to explore and possibly complicate the narratives that are firmly affixed in normative presumptions.

Within my process — this special manner of viewing, human subjectivities and more individualized identifications are seen as something that can become knowable. Anamorphosis is a metaphor for reimagining and expanding on appearances and overcoming “Otherness”— more in the sense that when someone is seen as less than, or as an object, this perspective can then be appropriated and re-loaded with more poignant meanings that point towards agency and autonomy.

—dg & Dave Kennedy

Kennedy Something fully itselfSomething fully itself
(photocopies, yellow stick, orange straw, wood scrap, pencil, brick, adhesive mound and blue cap. 108″ x 81″)

Something fully itself_detail_1Something fully itself (detail 1)

Something fully itself_detail_2Something fully itself (detail 2)


Dusty teal stick and trapezoid paper objectsDusty teal stick and Trapezoid (constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid_detail_1Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid (detail 1)

Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid_detail_2Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid (detail 2)


Framed between two othersFramed between two others
(photocopies, wood scraps, duct tape, tape, light grey tube, blue cap and rusty clip. 113″ x 73″)

Framed between two others_detail_1Framed between two others (detail 1)

Framed between two others_detail_2Framed between two others (detail 2)


Burgandy and White stripe paper objectBurgundy and White stripe (Constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Burgundy and White stripe_detail_1Burgundy and White stripe (detail)


Almond Fudge SupremeAlmond Fudge Supreme (Constructed photocopies. 28″ x 40″)

06.Almond Fudge Supreme_detail_1 500pxAlmond Fudge Supreme (detail)


Crescent moon and white circle on rectangleCrescent moon and white circle on rectangle
(Constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Crescent moon and white circle on rectangle_detail_1Crescent moon and white circle on rectangle (detail)


Black Raspberry delightBlack Raspberry delight (Constructed photocopies. 28″ x 40″)

Black Raspberry delight_detail_1Black Raspberry delight (detail 1)

Black Raspberry delight_detail_2Black Raspberry delight (detail 2)

—Dave Kennedy
September 7th – October 1st
6007 12th Ave S
Seattle WA 98108



Dave Kennedy_likeliness of an appearanceDave Kennedy at Kinnear Space (The likeliness of an appearance)

Photos: Courtesy of Joe Freeman

Dave Kennedy has recently worked as Co-Director and Visiting Lecturer for the University of Washington’s Art in Spain program. He is a recipient of the 4Culture Individual Project Award, as well as Artist Trust’s Grants for Artists Projects, the Joanne Bailey Wilson Endowed Scholarship, and the Vermont Studio Center Fellowship. Kennedy has recently served on Seattle Art Museum’s Blueprint Roundtable panel and has participated as a guest lecturer at the Henry as an intro to their “Out [O] Fashion” Show curated by Deb Willis. He has prepared multimedia presentations for the Society of Photographic Educators, Cornish College of the Arts, and the University of Washington on topics of marginalization and objectification. He received his MFA from the University of Washington in Interdisciplinary Arts and an undergraduate degree from Western Washington University in Visual Communication. Kennedy is currently working as the Visual Arts Coordinator at the Vermont Studio Center while continuing to be an active member of Photo Center Northwest and COCA in Seattle, WA. His works have exhibited both locally and internationally at such venues as the GGibson Gallery, Photo Center Northwest, Zhou B Art Center, Chicago Industrial Arts & Design Center, Escuela de Belle Arte in Spain, and the Seattle Art Museum’s Gallery.

Artist site:



Jul 052016

IMG_7893_2Rikki Ducornet scroll detail.

IMG_7601Rikki Ducornet scroll detail.

McDonald inspired by Ducornet 2 (1)Margie McDonald sculpture inspired by Ducornet’s scrolls.


DucornetRikki Ducornet & Margie McDonald

The magical Margie McDonald and I have only just begun working on an installation that as yet has no name — but that I think of as CRAZY HAPPY because that’s the way I feel around Margie. She works with copper wire and other sumptuous and often eccentric refuse from the Port Townsend boatyard, creating whimsical, erotic and even hilarious sculptures that this time around are intended to inform an entire forest of my paper scrolls (the ones you see here are 25′ long) with their shadows as well as their forms. In other words, CRAZY HAPPY owes something to choreography and something to an ongoing and animated conversation between her work and mine.

The show opens at Port Townsend’s spacious Northwind Arts Center in July of 2017 and, in March of 2018, travels to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to occupy Carmen Gutierrez’s surrealist gallery Casa Diana, its marvelous spaces designed by the artist Pedro Friedeberg. The scrolls glimpsed here were painted during a month’s residency at The Vermont Studio Center this past March. Other images include Margie’s early responses to my scrolls, her piles of great stuff, my own photos of junk and such things that spark the process.

—Rikki Ducornet

The Scrolls


The Inspirations (from Margie McDonald’s studio material)

Margie McDonald Work Inspired by the Scrolls

Margie McDonald Sculptures


The author of nine novels, three collections of short fiction, two books of essays and five books of poetry, Rikki Ducornet has received both a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award For Fiction. She has received the Bard College Arts and Letters award and, in 2008, an Academy Award in Literature. Her work is widely published abroad. Recent exhibitions of her paintings include the solo show Desirous at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2007, and the group shows: O Reverso Do Olhar in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2008, and El Umbral Secreto at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende in Santiago, Chile, in 2009. She has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Coover, Forest Gander, Kate Bernheimer, Joanna Howard and Anne Waldman among others. Her collected papers including prints and drawings are in the permanent collection of the Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago Chile, The McMaster University Museum, Ontario, Canada, and The Biblioteque Nationale, Paris.

Deeply informed by the traditional crafts from her native Newfoundland, Margie McDonald received a BFA in Textile Arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Margie was an art teacher in Newfoundland for 6 years before setting off on adventures including living on rickety old sailboat in the Caribbean, sailing across the Atlantic and commercial fishing and running a grizzly viewing camp in Alaska. While apprenticing to a yacht rigger in Port Townsend beginning in 1998, she learned to splice steel wire and added newly mastered techniques to her textile education to begin creating her inimitable sculpture. She prefers to work with recycled materials often found at scrap yards where interesting metal objects and various wire will inspire her organic sculptures that evolve through construction rather than a preconceived plan. She has been the Artist in Residence for the Port Townsend High School since 2008 and is the Artistic Director for the Port Townsend Wearable Art Show. Margie’s many solo and juried shows include the Britannia Copper Museum in British Columbia, (2012) and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (2013). Twice a finalist in the coveted New Zealand Museum of Wearable Art’s yearly international show (2013, 2014), her piece ‘Wired” was retained for museum display and on view throughout the following year. Her work can be found at Simon Mace Gallery in Port Townsend and at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.


Jul 042016

photo: Barbara Weissberger, 2016Eric More, photo: Barbara Weissberger, 2016

The thing that’s always interested me in music as an art form, and what it delivers reliably that I don’t get from other art forms is: when you hear something and the hair on the back of your neck stands up, or a shiver runs down your spine or you forget to breathe for a while, and you feel chills…that’s what I’m talking about. That experience, that’s what I mean by Sublime. — Eric Moe


Eric Moe (1954) is a contemporary American composer and pianist whose work rests quite comfortably upon the traditional classical concert stage. It’s also work which is filled with a lively post-modern intelligence that dazzles and surprises. His musical compositions teem with lyric moments, never far from laughter, or bright-eyed despair. Consider, for example, On the Tip of My Tongue, his sonata for bass clarinet and synthesizer, which invites the listener both to feel the pulsing rhythm of the performer’s tongue against the reed of the instrument, as well as the stammer implied by the title idiom; or listen to some of his percussion works, such as Danger: Giant Frogs, or Gong Tormented with their evocative titles (the first from a sign Moe spotted, and remembered; the second a fragment from Yeats’ Byzantium) and their thrillingly intimate clamor. He’s alert to the textures and timbres he skillfully skeins through the framework he’s created, as well as the implied context of the listeners’ own association with the instrument; see, for instance, I Have Only One Itching Desire, which draws from drummer Mitch Mitchell’s work with Jimi Hendrix. Like a practiced storyteller, Moe can launch a series of subtle echoing patterns before surprising the listener with abruptly garish amusements, or follow a line of jazz-inspired riffs to a sudden, wrenchingly vulnerable, conclusion.

Eric Moe’s OBEY YOUR THIRST, excerpt — Mari Kimura, violin

From Harmonic Constellations: Works for Violin and Electronics

Moe is a skilled pianist and performer as well as a composer. His music conveys a physical awareness that the piano is both a string and a percussion instrument. He’s also an avid hiker, at home in the outdoors; like many of his Romantic predecessors, much of his inspiration comes from the natural world. Edmund Burke famously distinguished between the Sublime and the Beautiful. Of these two, Beauty has garnered the most praise, but it’s the Sublime that sustains Moe’s interest. Of course, as has been famously observed, it’s but a short step from the Sublime to the Ridiculous, a hazard which, Moe might suggest, could enhance the experience. There’s often a playful sense of danger about his work, nothing of the sartorial remove that’s so often the case with postmodern work.

It’s not surprising that Moe should be linked with another postmodernist, the masterful David Foster Wallace, whose short story, “Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko,” Moe used as a libretto in his sit-trag one-woman opera TRI-STAN. Like Wallace, Moe seeks for new ways in, to write music that will both express and convey the depth of emotional experience in a way that’s genuinely meaningful to audiences today. Like Wallace, Moe’s music is always reminding us, “Alas, we no longer get to say ‘Alas’ with a straight face…”

I met Eric and his wife, the artist Barbara Weissberger, in residence at the Ragdale Foundation, where this interview was conducted as we strode across a muddy prairie at dusk.

Carolyn Ogburn: When we talked about doing this interview together, you suggested the Sublime. That might seem like an oddly dated word to use for your music, which I find anything but dated: it’s intense, fresh, consistently surprising, smart and frequently funny as hell. Can you tell me more about what you mean by Sublime?

Eric Moe: The thing that’s always interested me in music as an art form, and what it delivers reliably that I don’t get from other art forms is: when you hear something and the hair on the back of your neck stands up, or a shiver runs down your spine or you forget to breathe for a while, and you feel chills…that’s what I’m talking about. That experience, that’s what I mean by Sublime.

As a performer you want to induce that, to bring an audience to that, and as a composer trying to make that happen – well, it’s quite a nifty trick, when you can pull it off. And so, I was interested in that.

CO: Well, how do you do that? That nifty trick…?

EM: I think the reason why music is so much better at inducing the Sublime is that it’s so much better (than other art forms) at organizing time, in a very controlled flow. I mean, sure, when you’re reading a novel, things happen in a sequence, but the exact timing of the words: that’s determined by the reader, whether it’s being read aloud or silently…. In the visual arts you’re scanning a 2-D work or a sculpture, it’s very dispersed, you can’t really control how events unfold. And you really can do that with music.

And as a result I think you can tap into that experience of the Sublime more readily because it has a lot to do with surprise –

CO: Ah! See, I did not expect you to say that! (laughter) And that can provoke laughter out of – well, is it humor? is it surprise? I really found myself laughing out loud when I was listening to your music earlier today. But why was I laughing? Why do we laugh at musical devices: Is it because I know that there IS a joke? To signal that “I’m in on this” – or is a laughter that’s a burst of surprise? But it is funny!

EM: Well, I think humor is also dependent on surprise. When you said, “The ridiculous and the sublime” – I mean, those are pretty closely related actually. Because, you know, for a joke, you expect one thing to be the outcome and the punchline reveals that there’s a twist –

CO: –something outsized, something out of proportion. How do you do that?

EM: Oh, we have our ways…(laughs) I like to set up rhythmic landscapes, where you expect things to roll along a certain way. And then I like to pull the rug out from underneath. That moment of “Ooooh…!”

CO: But, when you talk about surprise – as a composer, that has got to be planned, but as an experiential…you can’t set out to encounter the sublime. You can prepare yourself, but – it’s not a contrivance. That’s part of it, right – it’s out of your control?

Well, yes, there are a couple of definitions – well, historically, there are various definitions, but two of them imply the surprise element.

Longinus, or Pseudo-Longinus, was the first to write about it. His treatise, in the first century CE, something like that, his writing was lost and rediscovered by Boileau in the 17th century. He talks about the sublime as being like a thunderbolt. And his examples tend to be jarring metaphors that verge on the ridiculous. And in fact, if you just push them a little more, they DO become ridiculous.

CO: The Sublime as extreme? That was a big Romantic obsession, for sure. Ideas, being pushed kind of…over the edge…So, when you are talking about humor and surprise, is that a covert way of disclosing the mouse marimba behind the scenes?

EM: (laughing) No, no…I didn’t think expectation, or suspense…I mean I always knew that you toy with feelings of expectation, and you either satisfy or you frustrate, and you can produce a lot of tension or power that way. I didn’t know why that was so, why that could produce Sublime effects, until I started reading the works of this musicologist/cognitive psychologist named David Huron who dissected the whole apparatus of expectation and anticipation. He makes a very compelling argument that any organism, evolutionarily, has a huge advantage of survival if it can predict the future, and how well it predicts the future. So we’re evolved to anticipate outcomes. And then, when something’s coming up, we feel a rise in the tension. As we reach that moment, the moment when something happens, we have an instinctive response as we know whether our prediction was accurate or not. And after all that is done, much more slowly, we have a conscious appraisal of what just happened.

For example, a snake crossing the path, like it did when I was hiking in Yellowstone with Barbara one year, and I – well, I just jumped. I didn’t think about it; no thinking involved there. But then I looked at the snake: it didn’t have rattles, it wasn’t poisonous, and then I wanted to look at it. So – it’s unexpected. I had an immediate response: I’d failed to anticipate (the snake) so I had a negative feeling about that. I had a bolt of adrenaline, and so I jumped. Then, after I jumped and I could see that the snake wasn’t a poisonous variety, this initial response was followed by “Oooh, that’s pretty cool. What kind of snake was that?”

CO: And was that interest sort of proportional to your level of surprise, do you think?

EM: Yes, yes, I probably enjoyed the snake more having gone through that business ahead of time. it’s kind of a complex stew of …whatever kind of neurotransmitters are flooding your system. That’s how surprise parties are supposed to work, right? They’ve actually videotaped people – the victims! – at surprise parties, and at the moment of the surprise there’s this look of terror (unless, of course, they knew it all along and they have anticipated it) and then after that, it’s supposed to be very pleasurable. For people with a strong startle reflex like me, it would – I would never get over being pissed off – but most people, I think, get over that surprise and then enjoy the party much more. So I think you can exploit something like this in art music because it has complexity built into it…

For most people, utter predictability is also very pleasurable. Tension is built up but we really know exactly what’s going to happen, and we get it, and it’s fine, no surprises, that’s good, and we can feel good about that.

CO: You do a good job of establishing a language that’s accessible from the start; it sets up expectations for the listener from the start, which is good, right, because if you don’t then…there’s less context for surprise.

EM: There’s a couple of kinds of expectations. There’s what they call schematic expectations, which is based on all the pieces of music you know about or have heard and you have a set of expectations based on that. And then you have expectations built on the specific piece you’re listening to, which are called veridical expectations. I think both of those work in a piece of art music.

But it’s more powerful when you can engage the schematic expectation. So if you’re evoking a Latin beat or a rock and roll riff, then you’ve got a certain set of expectations tied in with that.

For instance, in TRI-STAN, my big one-woman opera, a setting of a story by David Foster Wallace, there’s a cool moment where a skewed but very recognizable quotation of Isolde’s Liebestod is nearing its grand climax. I pile on a quotation of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. theme (this is all implicit in DFW’s text, by the way). And then, just as you’ve absorbed that’s going on, I throw on top a progression from the intro to the last movement of Mahler’s 6th. Big, big tension. And what happens next? The drum set rips into a boogaloo beat, and the piece goes careening toward the gruesome/funny climax of the sit-trag. So I’m messing with schematic expectations, but at the same time, this spot of time is foreshadowed by smaller things earlier in the piece. So veridical expectation is involved as well, and is in happy conflict with the schematic.

Eric Moe Photo: Barbara Weissberger, 2015

Eric Moe
Photo: Barbara Weissberger, 2015

CO: You use such intensity of rhythm in your music. But at the same time, there’s an emotional content that’s kind of overwhelming at times. That one piece, Gong Tormented. The loneliness. I mean, I could have easily been projecting – but you don’t know, without words –

EM: I think we access (emotions) most directly without words. In that case I wasn’t setting out to write about loneliness, but it’s a serious piece…there are the sounds of the instruments themselves; the rhythm doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is always lots of pitch information in the various instruments. I notated that (pitch information) with some degree of precision.

CO: When you feel that shiver down your spine – who are some of the people who make you feel that way?

EM: Oh, well, Beethoven. He didn’t invent it, but he was certainly pursuing it. All of the great composers have their moments. Mahler, or Wagner, for instance, do it with pure volume of sound; with huge volume one minute and a solo instrument the next. Bud Powell does it through sheer velocity and rhythmic exuberance. Judith Weir, with grim pitiless humor and flawless timing. David Del Tredici, by casting longing glances back at 19th century evocations of the Sublime. Igor Stravinsky, not afraid to have the goofy, surreal, and exalted in the same piece (see Oedipus Rex). And so on.

CO: Like a shift in the landscape?

EM: Yes. And I would say, you know, nature plays a large role in my thoughts of the Sublime. I’ve got a lot of titles that are inspired by the natural world. I spend a lot of time outside…it’s a source of Sublime moments. I like to think about the difference – what’s the correspondence between looking down a 3000-foot vertical drop and one of those great moments in music that I like. The physical response is actually quite similar. “Holy shit!” (laughs)

There’s an anticipation as you’re getting to the top of a mountain. You have a sense of what it’s going to be. But it’s always really surprising. It’s never exactly as you imagined. And it’s always more than your brain can cope with. A panoramic vista, or when you can’t process the depth of field that you’re looking down through.

CO: Because of scale?

EM: Yeah. In mountains, yes. In music, sometimes it’s scale – like in Mahler, or Wagner. You’ve got a 5-hour piece, and suddenly you find the moment that the whole piece has been leading up to, and it’s literally a huge moment. It’s all been orchestrated. Literally and figuratively…

CO: Mahler was a big hiker wasn’t he?

EM: Yes, he spent the summer in the mountains. But what we’re really talking about, getting into the Burkean Sublime, where he (Edmund Burke) was talking about associating it with this feeling of terror at the immensity…

Wait, let me get this. I always travel with this.

“The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature is astonishment, and astonishment is that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended with some degree of horror.”

I just love that quote. And people these days are very critical of that, that idea of the sublime, they prefer Kant’s which is just the inability of the imagination to wrap itself around anything, and that’s certainly part of it. But the experience in music and a mountain landscape that I get is certainly more akin to that (quote).

CO: All the predictabilities are suspended – inertia. having been in motion suddenly not. Astonishment, and with some degree of horror…I think both the word horror, and the word astonishment – they meant something at that time, don’t you think? Different than they do now…

EM: Looking it up, I find that the Latin meaning of horror is “a bristling, a shaking, trembling as with cold or fear, terror,” which corresponds nicely with the kind of frisson that the Sublime evokes in many people. The psychologist/musicologist Huron that I was talking about goes further and actually connects surprise and astonishment with the flight or fight response, saying that with the interesting claim that laughter as a reaction to the unexpected is based on the flight response, that laughter is based on panting. Supercharging your oxygen capacity so that you can outrun your competitor, and that laughter is the aestheticized version of that. And that the sense of the sublime and chills is like a cat fluffing itself up, making itself larger, as a means of defending itself against an unexpected source of danger.

CO: What do you think?

And to me, neither of those definitions goes anywhere near explaining why we have the degree of auditory acuity that we have, the fine pitch differentiation. We have ridiculously more than we would need for language, much more than we would ever need for survival skills.

CO: Really? I’m surprised at that.

EM: Like for survival skills, it would be useful to hear much higher pitches, and lower pitches, than we actually can. but within the narrow range that we can hear. we can make out very fine difference in pitch. You can split a half-step into at least 12 parts and still make out the difference in pitch.

Rousseau thought we were singing before language was developed. And you hear children talking that way. They’ll sing the language.

CO: Your undergraduate degree was in music composition, as well as your graduate work. You must have known for a long time that you wanted to be a composer. What drew you to composition?

EM: I didn’t start writing music until I was in college. Before then, I sort of sight-read my way through Western music literature – not just piano music; I was also reading scores, hacking through best I could; songs, opera to some extent – and I started with Bach. Bach was my first love. Then I moved up, pretty much in chronological order: Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok, Schoenberg…and then at some point I was running out, and I was hungry for more. And I wasn’t entirely satisfied with what there was, so, at that point, I figured it was time to write it myself.

CO: It sounds like you’re talking about playing your way through – like a voracious reader – but as a pianist, that’s not what one did. One would get the next piece one wanted to play and you would perfect it….

EM: That’s why I didn’t go to a conservatory… (laughs)

CO: But reading your way through, that must be how you got a sense of the composer’s language, of the composer himself as a person, rather than just the magnificence of any given piece…

EM: I like context. I do that when I’m reading writers too. If I find something that I’m reading that I like, I’ll read everything that person has published everything I can get my hands on…

It’s important to have context. I hate anthologies for that reason. The best whatever of 1997…it’s like, who cares? It’s hard for me to get excited about reading (things like that…) Unless you know the writers that are being excerpted, it’s far less interesting for me than getting the whole picture of the creator’s work, so as to have more to relate it to.

CO: Like establishing expectations in order to cultivate room for surprise?

EM: Yeah, that’s true. There’s sort of the grand schematic thing of the culture at large, then the ones specific to that story, and this sort of fills the gap between those.

CO: You’re clearly an avid reader. But it was music that you were called to tinker around with.

EM: That’s because writing is really hard. I don’t know how anybody does that. It’s just …tortuous…Words. Words! You write them and then everyone knows what they mean. They’re so hard. And also, then they mean something. Then you’re just…(laughs) You can’t just create a grand emotional effect and leave it to the listener to puzzle over the “why”. It’s interesting to read late Romantic writers on music and see how much range of semantic meaning they’ll ascribe to the same piece. I’ve had wildly divergent responses to pieces of mine – I remember one piece that was “so violent and tragic” to one listener and equally “energetic and joyful” to another.

CO: I want to get back to land. I just talked to two composers, both of them immersed in thoughts about climate collapse. Do you find yourself responding to that in your work?

EM: Well, yeah. I’m actually working on a piece with the tentative title of Buffalo Jump. Based on what the Blackfoot and other Plains tribes would do before the Spanish introduced horses to the New World: they would drive a herd of buffalo off a cliff, counting on the terrified herd to blindly follow the spooked lead animals; and it seems that as a species we’re – out of fear and being herded out of our interests and short-sightedness…

CO: When we talk about surprise in your pieces, so far there’s been a sense of thrill about it. But when we’re talking about buffalo riding off a cliff…

EM: Well, there’s one thing I should mention about the Sublime. The terror? It involves surviving. (laughs) It’s that appraisal stage, which is: I’m okay, this is a piece of music. 

CO: Then what do you do when you’re facing this – giant thing coming? For example, we were talking earlier about your hikes in Glacier National Park, and the glaciers there, and everywhere, well, they’re disappearing. They’re melting, because of climate collapse.

EM: I go there every summer. Every summer, the glaciers are a little smaller. And it’s very sad. I mean, it’s really sad. And a lot of my music is very sad. or has a deep sadness. Even the funny pieces, a melancholy, an elegiac moment…

CO: The history of sublime – well, there’s the horror. And there are plenty of things we can look at today that involve that sense of horror…

EM: Yeah, yeah…(laughing) well, so far, it’s been…well, the opera I just finished, The Artwork of the Future, is a comic opera about extinction. The human race has become extinct and our two heroes find that they’ve traveled 300 years into the future, and they want to see if their art has survived and yes, it has, but there are no people left. There are just robots. So then, is this a good thing or a bad thing? They eventually decide that it’s a bad thing. They want to know how this has happened, so they ask the robots, how it happened. and the robots were like…(shrugs) “They were busy looking at their phones…”

CO: “Adult coloring books came out, so…” (laughing) Here’s another question that’s been on my mind recently. Do you find yourself in conversation with other composers who are also thinking about the condition of culture…

EM: You know, I Have Only One Itching Desire – that’s based on Hendrix’s drummer, from the Experience. There are a bunch of licks from his – I mean, not all of it, but there are some moments where I’m evoking him, in particular. Mitch Mitchell. He’s a great drummer.

So all of that’s fair game. And then for those people who know what you’re referencing, it’s great to have that to bounce off of in terms of creating expectations, then you have a lot more material to play around with in terms of comic effect.

CO: I was struck by the piece you wrote for violinist Mari Kimura who developed a method of playing subharmonics. How did you incorporate that particular trick into the writing? Was it different than other commissioned works?

EM: She commissioned a piece that would make use of that. I was happy to do it. I finally figured out what was going on acoustically with the subharmonics, but before I did I had the idea of carefully setting up the listener’s first encounter with the sound – the first time you’ve heard anything that low-pitched or growly in the piece – or from a violin, ever. It’s an octave below the lowest note of the instrument and it comes a good ways into the piece. It’s like the jaws of Hell opening up when it’s combined with a pitch-shifted springdrum roar.

CO: It’s a really intense piece, one which pairs the violist with a recorded sound, and the two constantly interact…

EM: The idea of the piece was the Sprite (soft drink) slogan, Obey your thirst, which this ecopoeticist (Timothy Morton) whose work I was looking at pointed out that this was making a bottle of pop into a bottle of thirst. So the idea was that the violinist would be running after the tape part –

CO: Oh, like the ad! So if you’re literally ‘obeying your thirst’ and your thirst is a bottle of pop, and a pop is a bottle of thirst…it’s very koan-esque.

EM: Yes, well and then there is another Sublime moment been a very furious piece, it keeps getting more and more intense, and then everything turns into this very very sad closing section…Which took me by surprise, when I was writing it. I like that too. Because it’s a lot more fun, to not know what’s going to happen in a piece even as its creator.

CO: That’s why we do it, right? At some point in the process, you start to think about the way another person might experience it, their possible response. You put little messages, right? Little jokes to the reader, the listener, the performer – and that level of communication adds another level of tension, or intellectual engagement. Or would you call it an emotional engagement?

EM: Well, yeah – I mean, Stravinsky famously said, “I write for myself not for the hypothetical other.” When I read that, that seemed to resonate.

I have to imagine that others will have a response similar to my own – if it thrills me, there’s at least a fighting chance that another person will be thrilled as well. Commercial hackwork, on the other hand…

CO: Right. Relies on predictability, easy to hear, easy to understand. Keeping within a pretty defined set of parameters, based on whatever’s popular at the moment. But to be really unpredictable, as well as popular…

EM: Your unpredictable moments would have to be totally predictable. I mean, if you look at a horror movies, for example, which have a lot of what you might think of as Sublime effects, they mitigate the actual feeling of terror because you know exactly what’s going to happen. I mean, like in Psycho, Janet Leigh takes a shower, someone’s going to stab her.

CO: I don’t watch a lot of horror films but when I do, I’m always struck by the amount of jokes in them. Like there is a need, somehow, to affirm the viewer that they are “in” on the joke, somehow.

EM: I don’t watch them. The terror gets to me. But you’re right.

CO: There’s something uniquely human about that sense of the Sublime, is what it feels like you’re saying. Something that places you very squarely within the place of human. In your place in the world, and that place is small. And it gives you an interpretation of the rest of the world from your size, which is astonishing and mixed with fear.

EM: You’re small but you have eyes and you have ears and they are open. So you know that there’s more out there, and you’re trying to cram it all in to your small brain…

CO: Being both more and less confined to the space you think of yourself as taking up…that’s the laughter, isn’t it?

EM: Yes. The Sublime is more life-affirming. Ultimately, Citizen’s United gets overturned, that balance of power can be restored, then things will improve. But that’s going to take a lot of collective effort.

But creating instances of the Sublime: that is something we can do as individuals.

Eric Moe and Carolyn Ogburn


Carolyn Ogburn

Carolyn Ogburn lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina where she takes on a variety of worldly topics from the quiet comfort of her porch. She’s a contributing writer for Numero Cinq and blogs for Ploughshares. A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory. UNC-Asheville, and UNC School of the Arts, and recently finished her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes on literature, autism, music, and disability rights and is at work on her first novel.

Jun 032016

LMB-11Dilasa is ten years old. She was born in a Nepali refugee camp and came to the United States when she was five. Her parents are Bhutanese refugees.

The white gray rubble light blinds me, wait, I just thought—what if this is not visible, what if all this is not visible.
—Juan Felipe Herrera, United States Poetry Laureate
I Am Merely Posing for a Photograph

Lynne Browne is a workaholic. She is the web coordinator at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, NY. She has a straightforward manner of speaking and a brilliant wit. People like her. People like her instantly. Largely because they know they can trust her. They can trust her because she does not bullshit them. She does not have time in her fast-paced world for such nonsense. She thrives in this fast-paced world. She is a leader and a go-getter. When she does something, she does it to the N-th degree. And her passion is photography.

The combination of Lynne’s approachability and her amazing technical skill with the camera and computer results in portraiture of unequalled intensity. In hectic settings, she is able to capture the lyric moment. Intimacy is achieved quickly, even in situations where there is a language barrier. I find this quite magical. The seduction of her candid friendliness and competence leave little room for even the thought of a “no.” And in response to Herrera’s poem, yes, one can certainly see the wound — coupled with hope — in the eyes of the children and youths Lynne photographs. In the worn faces of the aged, where one would expect only the “rubble,” Lynne is able to find also the underlying joy and pride.

I’ve asked Lynne to speak of the evolution of her personal ongoing project photographing refugees in her hometown region, Utica, NY (“The Town That Loves Refugees”), where she is making a difference with the images she creates. Herrera recently encouraged an audience at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs to “use their own natural and sincere voice to become who they fully are,” and just so, both the artist and the muse reveal themselves in these stunning photographs.

Lynne M. Browne at two.

LMB: It was by chance that I began a long-term project of photographing international refugees who live in the Mohawk Valley. In 2012 my anthropologist colleague, Dr. Kathryn Stam asked me to take photographs of her refugee friends who were performing at a local music festival. I’m so glad I agreed; I didn’t realize that event would lead to many more exciting experiences.

LMB-2Guman is Bhutanese-Nepali

I have loved images since I was a child, as seen in attached snapshot of me at the tender age of two. The twinkle in my eye and the big grin foretell my future as an image-maker. On my 13th birthday I received my very own camera – a Kodak Trimlite Instamatic. I could see what it was through the wrapping paper and couldn’t contain my excitement. There was an attempt to limit the number of photos I could take based on the roll of film, but that didn’t stop me. I babysat until I saved enough money to buy in bulk and then mailed multiple rolls away for developing.

I progressed to a 35mm camera in my senior year of high school as one of the yearbook photographers, documenting all the critically important activities of student life. In college I took my required photography class with a Pentax K1000 borrowed from my grandfather. I now shoot digital: DSLRs; mirrorless; point and shoot; and phone; and have a love/hate relationship with the limitless number of photos I can take!

My images tend toward photojournalism with elements of portraiture. In most cases, I’m shooting photographs at events where many, many things are happening at once. Dr. Stam and friends from the Midtown Utica Community Center (MUCC) showcase their different cultures through performances at Fort Stanwix, the Utica Zoo, Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC), SUNY Polytechnic Institute and other venues. I think the largest event that I’ve attended was the Karen New Year celebration at MVCC this past January where the Utica Don Dancers performed as one of several groups from across New York State. They practice many hours at the MUCC to get their routine as close to perfect as possible.

LMB500-3Members of the Utica Don Dancers go to many cultural events in the area and perform the traditional Karen New Year dance. KuSay (pictured) is Karen, from Burma.

LMB-4More from the traditional Karen New Year dance.
Tun Tun Win (pictured) is Karen, from Burma.

At these events, there are various groups of performers, some on stage, those who are waiting in the wings, and those who have just finished their performances. With so many performers and audience members present, I wander around the venue to see who might be willing to let me take their photograph. I feel that I am recognized as a friend now, and I have a unique opportunity, even when there is a language barrier. I love it when a younger person interprets for an elder.

In most cases we are right near all the action of the festivities, including dancers whirling around and musicians playing. By cropping in-camera, I’m able to capture what I think is an intimate moment between my subject and me. I don’t have a lot of time with each person, just a couple of minutes at most. Because my background is in public relations, I feel the portrait should remain as close to reality as possible, and believe in making minimal edits.

People wonder what I do with the many photographs that I take, and for the most part, I share them with the group I’ve photographedon social media for example, so they in turn can share them with their friends and families. There have also been a few public projects where we have used the photos. One major undertaking recently completed was a group of large banners featuring my photos along with information about refugees as part of Dr. Stam’s Refugees Starting Over project.

The banners were created to be easily transported to various functions and to help foster relationships between the refugees and local communities. One of their first appearances was at an event held at the Utica Zoo. Everyone from the refugee community was so excited to search the banners for images of themselves and their friends! The banners include text from the United Nations, defining a refugee: “Any person who: owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Born in the U.S., Shayal is Bhutanese-Nepali.
He has a tikka on his forehead, which is a Hindu blessing in Nepal.

LMB500-7Monisha came to the United States in 2014 from a refugee camp in Jhapa, Nepal. Her family occupied one of the lower social groups in the Hindu caste system, but converting to Christianity and coming to the U.S. freed her family from the discrimination of their former position. Monisha is a high school student and loves traditional Nepali and contemporary Hindi-style dance. This photograph was taken only a few days after her arrival.

The most significant exhibition of my work, titled Portraits of Hope: The faces of refugee resettlement in CNY, will take place in June 2016 at Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute in Utica, NY. This exhibit is a collaboration with Dr. Stam, using my photos along with her narrative about those featured in the portraits. The combination of the two will help viewers better understand each person’s story, and hopefully appreciate what some refugees endure before coming to the US.

While I am extremely excited about this opportunity, it really is a companion piece to the main attraction at MWAPI, featuring the work by internationally renowned National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry.

When I was growing up I loved to look at all of the exotic places featured in National Geographic, and thought it would be such an amazing job to travel the world taking photos of the things I encountered. Imagine my joy when I was introduced to people from around the world who now live in my own backyard and are willing to let me photograph them. And to top it all off, have my photographs tell this local story in one of my favorite places!

This ongoing project has opened my eyes to the Mohawk Valley’s refugee population. Approximately one in five people living in Utica today is a refugee. And, more than 15,000 refugees have come through the Refugee Center since 1982. Utica is a true melting pot with the fourth largest concentration of refugees in the United States and close to 40 languages spoken in the Utica school district.

LMB500-8Layla is a teenager from Somali-Bantu who has a quick wit and wants to be a model some day; she commands a room when she is present.

LMB-9Amina (L) and Zeinabu (R) are Somali-Bantu refugees who were resettled to Utica from one of the largest and most dangerous refugee camps in the world, Daadab in Kenya. They have been in the U.S. for approximately 14 years and are now high school students and fans of Korean drama and K-pop, Korean popular music.

I realize that I have only scratched the surface, and I look forward to future opportunities to photograph people who have found a home where they can feel safe enough to share their cultures with others. This is such a timely subject, seen almost daily in national and international news stories, including this one from the PBS NewsHour featuring Utica, How refugee resettlement became a revival strategy for this struggling town, and I am thrilled that I have had the opportunity to share their stories.

LMB-10This portrait was taken while three generations of women were enjoying cultural performances and visiting exhibits at the Utica Zoo.

—Mary Kathryn Jablonski & Lynne M. Browne



Lynne Browne is the web coordinator and a photographer at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Utica, NY. She has an AAS degree in Advertising Design from Cazenovia College, a BS degree in Professional and Technical Communication and an MS degree in Information Design and Technology, from SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Lynne Browne Designs website


A gallerist in Saratoga Springs for over 15 years, visual artist & poet Mary Kathryn Jablonski is now an administrative director in holistic healthcare. She is author of the chapbook To the Husband I Have Not Yet Met, and her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals including the Beloit Poetry Journal, Blueline, Home Planet News, Salmagundi, and Slipstream, among others. Her artwork has been widely exhibited throughout the Northeast and is held in private and public collections.


Apr 022016

Circling Raven Prophecy, Kay O’Rourke


This writing project began as a flash of an idea when I first saw artist Kay O’Rourke’s series of thirty paintings, The River Remembers, in Spokane’s Marmot Gallery. I thought how great it might be to have a collection of written somethings to go with these artworks that depict the history of the Spokane River Gorge. My sense was the somethings shouldn’t detract or distract from Kay’s gorgeous paintings. If the writings somehow paid homage to the paintings, I mused—perhaps by taking the same shape (Ah, yes, that magical, sometimes mystical SQUARE!), and if they weren’t too prissy-looking (as regular lineated poems can often appear)—then maybe just maybe the literary enterprise might indeed complement the visual art.

Of course we were talking about an ekphrastic endeavor, and obviously the writings needed to be prose. As in prose poems. Friends at Spark Center, a tutoring center in my neighborhood, helped bring this crazy idea to life. And of course so did the fabulous area writers who threw themselves into this project with such passion. Some of these were novice writers; some were graduates of or students enrolled in Eastern Washington University’s M.F.A. Program. Several were high school students in the Salish Language School, a school that fosters education in traditional tribal language and culture for local Native American young people. This amazing group of area poets and lovers of our river came together, each taking on a painting or two, and “living in it” creatively, roaming imaginatively among its details and history.

Presented here are eight excerpts from the series of twenty paintings and their accompanying prose companions. So many surprising sources of joy fed into this project: the contemplative moments we all spent with the paintings, the intimate engagement of the writers, the stories that poured forth, the prose poems taking shape before us with such gusto, and the history we all learned together of our town and our river. We are grateful to Kay O’Rourke for these marvels of inspiration. I never dreamed all these unexpected sources of delight would, like small feeder streams, enter the great river.

—Nance Van Winckel


About the Contributors

Kay O'RourkeKay O’Rourke.
Photo Credit: Jon Lepper, Tim Halloran Spokane Creative Life

Artist Kay O’Rourke

I work in oil and mixed media large scale drawings. I also play with found objects, creating artistic narratives. My work is narrative in nature, celebrating moments and memorializing them. The images can be about joy, humour, anger and even sometimes fear. I follow all the rules of good art making but let my inner person take me where I must go.

This last year was spent doing a commission of 30 paintings on the History of the Spokane River Gorge from the beginning of time up to Expo 74. I was commissioned by Jim Frank for Kendall Yards in Spokane these works now hang permanently in the Spark Centre at Kendall Yards. These works still represent my way of using “Majic Realism.” I believe Myth and Folk tales give a better sense of history beyond facts.

I’m drawn to naturalism, lyricism and myth. I consider my work to be “Paw Prints” of my life journey, the creation of myth from the ordinary.

The Writers

Megan Cuilla received her MFA from Eastern Washington University. She lives in Spokane, WA, with her husband and pet rats. Her work has been published in Rock and Sling and Knockout.

Once in a moon Jeffrey Dodd emerges from his bungalow in the foothills of North Spokane, shakes his fist, and returns to prune his shopping list.

Brooke Matson’s first full-length collection of poetry, The Moons, was published by Blue Begonia Press in 2012 and was also included in the 2015 Blue Begonia Press boxed set titled Tell Tall Women. Matson’s poems have appeared in Floating Bridge Review, CALYX, and various issues of RiverLitfor which she was the 2014 Poet in Residence.

Kathryn Smith’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Bellingham Review, Mid-American Review, Florida Review, Bluestem, Cleaver Magazine, and Ruminate. She was a 2013 artist resident at Holden Village, and her work has been nominated for Best American Poetry and the Pushcart Prize. She has an MFA in creative writing from Eastern Washington University and lives in Spokane, WA.

These students from Spokane’s Salish School contributed prose pieces: Ryem Abrahamson, Sierra Bates, Danny Boyd, and Shana Ellingburg.


Raven Watching

After the painting Circling Raven Prophecy (#4)

#4Circling Raven Prophecy

See the reflection in my eye? That is you. It is sunset, or is it sunrise? Sometime before now, a tree branch snapped. The teal-tinted feather that covers my ear moves gently as you move. Everything cries out:  the scent of the river. My murder in the sky.  The man at the river’s edge. The men who are coming.

We flew from where we rested and now we circle the water, waiting. I used to believe things would be like this, circling and timeless, the banks of the river lush, alive. Things will change, sometimes in an instant, and sometimes forever. My beak is open as I breathe in. Tomorrow, I must remember today. One of my brothers carries a vine.

—Megan Cuilla


The Flowing Clock

After the painting Spokan Chief Garry (#7)

#7Spokan Chief Garry

As I look down the stream, I see in it the generosity and unconditional love it sheds on my people. As I listen, it whispers along the shore all the uncanny secrets of life. We learn from the river; our way of life is like the river. We appreciate that every deed pours into the vast ocean of unknown; yet we stay as composed as the river floating through the luminous meadow. Giving back to our relations, we exist as the river, the people of this land. But as I look at the clock, I see they’re just like the clock, always ticking, running around in circles, running out of time. I begin to question, what happens to the clock as it drowns into the river? Will it keep ticking? Or muddle in the grasp of the water? The ticking stops, and the water talks. Listen.

*Translation notes: Spokan is Salish spelling of the anglicized Spokane.

— Sierra Bates



After the painting The Indian Wars (#8)

#8The Indian Wars

I am a spirit, who was once a little girl. I thought after death would mean that I would be with the spirits, but when the spirit of death chose me, I was in the clouds, watching over my tribe and my family, until I do something good for my tribe. Then the syapé came, killing our horses and our people, and the spirit of death picked the horses’ spirits one by one.

I looked at the sky, which was red from the blood of the horses. I looked at my grandparents, my grandmother, crying, holding onto my grandfather as tight as she could, my grandfather, crying on my grandmother’s shoulder, wishing that hope could be as big as the sun. But at that time, it seemed that hope was smaller than the palm of his hand.

I promise that the next day, I will make hope bigger than the sun, bigger than anything. Not so that I could be with the spirits, but so there will be happiness in my tribe once again.

—Danny Boyd



After the painting Indian Canyon Falls (#9)

Indian Canyon Falls

Heron watches the Falls

The secret to stillness is to tell yourself a story. Once upon a time there was a face in the falls. I tilt my head to feel the spray. Once upon a time he saw me. I tilt my tilted head, turn a widened eye. I am wondering, a wonder. Once upon a time he wandered. My face faces its own direction, something to do with motionlessness. Something in the water. In the light. Once upon a time a creature ceased flight. It’s something to do with flying forever. I will not disturb the water.

The Falls watch Heron

I am almost not here—cascade of my arms, the way I wear water and water wears me. One heron tilts its head, one leg raised toward…. The men broke camp; the new camp came. Only the horse gave notice. I thought death would be like floating on the water’s face forever. Then the herons came, their blue-gray feathers like a cloak tipped with light, and now I think it’s something to do with perpetual motion. They embody stillness, my opposite (I am ever moving, never constant, ever present). Part of me is water, part is air. I never grow cold.

—Kathryn Smith


Only Lies Remain

After the painting The Hanging of Qualchan (#11)

#11The Hanging of Qualchan

Qualchan is my name. I am strong.

I was surrounded, but I was not defeated.

My wife Whistalks, my brother Lotout, and I were trapped by the white man. They didn’t expect me to go in with my head held high. Nor did I expect them to break our treaty. We were supposed to bring the white flags, but instead they brought rope and deceit. Twenty-seven already gone, and the three of us stand strong while they hold my father hostage. They tricked us. They’re liars! My throat may be snaked with the string of the wrong, but the fire in my heart will never die out. Hi čn yoyot. I am strong.

Tomorrow I must warn my people! Tomorrow I must tell them of the “Indian Land For Sale” and the “Have a Home of Your Own” that will appear on paper directed towards the foreigners of this land.


—Ryem Abrahamson


The Empire Builder’s Lament

After the painting James Jerome Hill (#18)

#18James Jerome Hill

This idle leaves room for the goats to wander and taunt the wiry little dogs whose herding days are short. Not good. And giving the lean-about boys time to relax is not good for their industry or their understanding of provision. Even when we’re still, I’m to keep working out my fear and trembling. This land will never claim its own bounty.

When we move, all dominion moves with us and those boys are lumping coal into the box quicker than my little Lindell runs to fetch his pigs when they get a slop of liberty. We cut through Minnesota and Dakota so fast you could see Providence. Hear His voice calling out from the drive wheels: ta-lith-a cu-mi, ta-lith-a cu-mi, ta-lith-a cu-mi. And the prairie did rise.

Whatever future’s far shore we wash up on, this work multiplies in us like the bunched buffalo grass on the plains. Like Lindell’s little cutlets squeeing all over creation, and the voices boiling up from the steam. The other night, big harvest moon calling us home, I wondered if I’d see them again on this side. Even here, elbows deep in this valve chest, a voice calls cu-mi, and I am yet complete.

—Jeffrey G. Dodd


Four Faces

After the painting Union Depot Demolished (# 28)

#28Union Depot Demolished

I am the silent observer. The beauty of repetition, a stem of possibilities. I am time. I cannot fall. I have to stay strong even though the walls surrounding me are my prison. Keeping me locked away from the outside world. Allowed to look but not touch. That is my punishment.

As the world around me collapses, I remember the very beginning. The people. The plants. The life. The peace. I remember years later, a happy couple boldly dancing on the dirt, sharing their joy with the world. I remember the freedom, back before I was put in my tower, trapped. Now all I see is broken pavement. I don’t know or understand why the world around me collapses. Beneath my numbers, I see destruction. A crashed train, broken cords, a light holding on to all it has left: its color. Red.

I wish I could leave my prison and bravely help the world pick itself back up. I strive to help but no one opens the door to my eternal cage where I am confined.

Tomorrow I will continue to focus on the beautiful repetition and on the way the wind feels on my 365 stones. But today I mourn and put on four faces: strong, bold, brave and fierce. I will prove to the world that not everything can be demolished.

—Shana Ellingburg


The New Season

The Herbert H. Hamblin Conservation Area (# 30)

#30The Herbert H. Hamblin Conservation Area

To live in rivers is to live among mirrors. My family—we are grafted from one another, sprouting along the river rock like lichen. I have mistaken their wings for mine, recog­nized their coal-black beaks dipping among the yarrow and felt my own hunger raise its neck. Once I looked into my own eyes and saw a raging falls, a red stream of salmon twisting like a muscle across the land, a fire running with yellow feet across the bodies of trees.

A moment ago, I floated among the sedges—the ones with roots that taste like the caps of mushrooms—the water smelling of rusted steel. Goslings pushed their tiny bodies across the current, following their mother’s wake like beads of dew running across a spider’s thread. Then I tasted the delicate, warm dust, bitter with the sap of unfamiliar trees. It fell around us like a new season.

Maybe it is the sun pausing like a hot ember in the clouds, or maybe it’s the scent of burnt feathers mingled with pine, but my sister says the word first. My call follows hers—like the goslings following their mother—and then we are all calling with our blackened mouths, the memory lifting us like a many-winged river from the earth. I glide higher among the flock, heart pounding, and as I do, the sun itself flies down to rest on the water—fanning its red wings.

—Brooke Matson


author pic

Nance Van Winckel’s newest book is Ever Yrs, a novel in the form of a scrapbook (Twisted Road, 2014). Book of No Ledge, an altered encyclopedia, will appear with Pleiades Press’s Visual Poetry Series in November 2016. Nance teaches in Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing Program and lives in Spokane, WA.


Mar 012016

self-portrait through a keyholeSelf-portrait through a Keyhole: Digital, Pearl Metallic Paper, 7.5″ x 10″



LateafternoonhawkLateafternoonhawk: Digital, Pearl Metallic Paper, 18″ x 12″


nude with 3-urinal chastity beltNude with 3-urinal Chastity Belt: Digital, Pearl Metallic Paper, 5″ x 17″


§Medium walking the Sea of SerenityMedium Walking the Sea of Serenity: Digital, Pearl Metallic Paper,11″ x 11″
(Kind of an homage to Chagall)


Succubus Dragging a Shitstorm into the Rear View Mirror FinaleSuccubus Dragging a Shitstorm into the Rear View Mirror:
Digital, Pearl Metallic Paper, 7.5″ x 10″ (1 of 2 versions)


Museum of Victorian and Ancient ArcheologyWelcome to the Weingarten Museum of Victorian and Ancient Archeology:
Digital, Pearl Metallic Paper, 12″ x 18″


PasodoblePasodoble: Digital, Pearl Metallic Paper, 4″ x 7.5″

—Roger Weingarten

Roger Weingarten and another NC poet/artist Kate Fetherston are having a two-person show opening this Friday, March 4. The event kicks off at 6pm with reading at Bridgeside Books, 29 Stowe Street, Waterbury, VT, then moves downstreet to Axel’s Gallery, 5 Stowe Street, for art opening—Friday March 4.

See Weingarten’s poems on NC here.

See Kate Fetherston’s poem  & paintings here.


Roger Weingarten, author of ten collections of poetry, and co-editor of eight poetry and prose anthologies, has lectured, taught and read at writers’ conferences, poetry festivals, and universities nationally and internationally. He founded and taught in the MFA in Writing and the Postgraduate Writers’ Conference at Vermont College. His awards include a Pushcart Prize, a Louisville Review Poetry Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award in Literature. Stranger at Home: American Poetry with an Accent: co-edited with Andrey Gritsman, Interpoezia Press, was published in 2008, Premature Elegy by Firelight by Longleaf Press in 2007, and Open Book: Essays from the Postgraduate Writers’ Conference, co-edited with Kate Fetherston by Cambridge Scholars’ Press in 2007.


Mar 012016

Ivan Seng


Ivan Seng is an astonishingly gifted classical pianist and composer based in Asheville, North Carolina. His concert recitals reflect his wide-ranging interests: Bach, Shostakovich, Chopin, Haydn, Mendelsohn, Prokofiev; as well as contemporaries such as composer Kenneth Frazelle, with whom Seng has partnered in concert many times.

He’s a North Carolina native, traveling from his home in Boone to study with Clifton Matthews at UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem as a boy, then attending the school’s prestigious residential high school program. He left NC to attend Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he worked with Joseph Schwartz and Sanford Margolis, and returned to Winston-Salem for graduate study, where he studied composition with Michael Rothkopf in addition to his continued study with Matthews. Seng has won numerous regional awards in both solo and chamber performance, including the College Chamber Music Competition, and was selected to perform in the Asheville Rising Stars concert series. He frequently collaborates with the ensemble Pan Harmonia and other chamber ensembles. When he talks, he bears an air of slight preoccupation, paired with a laser-sharp attention. He’s got a youthful appearance, but speaks as a old-fashioned professor: not in powerpoint bullets but in penciled phrases that are frequently, beautifully, revised mid-clause.

Seng’s compositional interests are deeply immersed in mathematics, in which he finds description of the natural patterns of the universe. Like one of his major influences, the post-World War II composer Iannis Xenakis, who was among the first to use computer programs to compose music, Seng draws his compositional forms not from classical constraints, but through mathematical formulas. As Seng says, “I think it is important to have an emotional relation to these concepts, because it is the universe that we live in. We do live in a universe that’s not ordered. It’s not planetary spheres that orbit each other, in these very harmonious patterns. The heavens are not ordered.”

Xenakis was composing during a time ruptured by two world wars and the rise of totalitarianism in his own country, as well as the hugely influential compositional development that was serialism. Today’s rupture is both social and environmental, and Seng is one of the composers addressing climate collapse in his compositions.

Seng doesn’t talk about himself easily or often, but he graciously agreed to spend several afternoons discussing his compositional process with me following a concert performance of his work, part of a series of house concerts together with other electronic music composers in Asheville. The room had been dimly lit when Ivan took the stage. He explained that he would be premiering five works done using the SuperCollider programming language, gestured to the laptop whose screen was turned to the wall.  He inclined his head, as if taking the pulse of the room, and pressed a button on the computer.


Sounds fell from the screen, single tones, stretched, extended. Clusters, then, a barrage, then – silence. Despite no apparent sense of structure – there was no sign of a theme, no underlying motif to hold these sounds together – there was, nevertheless, a sense of unity to his music. Someone commented, after it was finished, “It was if it were raining, on a tin roof, and the roof receives the rain in a different way, every drop.”

Changes in the musical texture occur in sudden bursts and at a fairly rapid pace. Each burst affects only one musical feature at a time, such as speed, density, tone color, shape, or movement of sound. These happen in fairly rapid succession, and at unpredictable intervals of time.

Carolyn Ogburn:
 It seems to me that being a composer must be in some way like being an architect – well, I was thinking Xenakis, and of course that was his background. He didn’t even study traditional counterpoint and harmony, right? Because he was about 30 when he came to Paris, started working with Le Courbousier as an engineer and draftsman.  Then he tried to find a composition teacher – He tried to study with Nadia Boulanger, and she was like, Nah, I got no time for you – here you are, a 30-year-old beginner, and I’m Nadia Boulanger… so then he finally found Messiaen.

Ivan Seng: I think it was incredibly insightful of Messiaen [not to make Xenakis learn counterpoint.] Xenakis had a lot of mathematical training and a lot of drafting skills. His graphic abilities were incredible. So I think that Messiaen realized that he [Xenakis] could use all the skills he already knew – they were unique, not many musicians had these skills, why force everyone into the traditional mode?

CO: Would you call that modernism?

IS: Yeah! Well, maybe. A late stage of it. We had Schoenberg and Webern and Stravinsky; that was the high point of modernism. Then you’ve got the post-World War II serialism, and (those composers) all studied counterpoint. Boulez was brilliant at counterpoint, traditional tonal counterpoint. You can definitely see influences of contrapuntal thinking in his music. How these out-of-control multiple voices can be moving at the same time. It’s very similar to how they would do it in the Renaissance. I mean the intervals – were maybe not the same [laughing]… He doesn’t choose the consonant intervals as often as he does the dissonant intervals.

Xenakis doesn’t approach it that way. He  actually was very critical of the serialist composers and the kind of complete – the total serialist, and serialism in general. He bases his music on very different principles. Sometimes it sounds similar, but what he realized, basically, is that when you take music to that level of complexity we just can’t hear those tone rows anyway. Basically, his criticism was if you have, if it’s that dissonant, that complex, our ability to follow voices – we hear scattered voices, chaotic and kind of random – we don’t connect it.

CO: Because it’s too complex for us to process?

IS: I think they took complexity to such an extreme… I mean, in Bach, everything is controlled in such a way that you can hear the top voice responding to a bass voice; there’s many things you can pick up with your ear, and with your mind. With Boulez, maybe the low voice will be doing this [waving hand above his head] and the top voice will be doing this [waving the other hand about his waist], and so how can you actually process the differences?

So what ends up happening is that you don’t hear two voices; you hear the combined texture, or mass, of notes. I think Xenakis liked the sound of that but he realized that there’s really no point in having all [those] complex structures behind the scenes that you can’t – they’re not audible at all – so why bother creating those structures? Why not just deal immediately with surfaces. So he uses mathematics to do that. So now rather than using 12-tone rows in patterns, becoming so complex you can’t hear them anymore, he just uses mathematical formulas,  and creates the same kinds of structures. But there’s nothing to listen FOR in them.

See, you always feel like, in Schoenberg, you’re supposed to be hearing something, but you just can’t quite… get it. Unless you study the score, you can’t really hear it. I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down and listened to Schoenberg, and been like, “Oh I heard The Row!” Except if it’s completely isolated…

CO: Otherwise you’ve got to find it through visual interpretation of the score?

IS: Yes. I mean, sometimes Schoenberg will make a row into an obvious theme and maybe, after one or two listenings, you can recognize the theme. It’s not easy, and maybe you can hear one or two variations… but most of the time you don’t really. You hear shapes and patterns emerging, but you don’t hear that background structure of the row.

But with Xenakis, it’s not even there.  You don’t even bother trying to hear those patterns. You listen to the overall texture, and globally where it’s going.  Like, is this texture gradually becoming more dense? Like maybe it starts sparsely, and then you can hear this building of density, it gradually starts to collect notes and becomes more dense. You can hear [everything you need to].

Random Walk X Winter Solstice: The changes have become smoother. Instead of sudden bursts, each musical parameter undergoes nearly continuous transition from one state to another.

CO: What you’re describing feels very visual, very textural, like a sweater pattern or something. Like, not all that auditory? Or, am I missing something?

IS: It’s actually completely auditory. It’s based on all kinds of mathematical principles and formulas. But I think what [Xenakis] really wanted to do was emulate the laws of nature. Like say you go out on a hike and you see a geological formation that’s been sculpted by many forces over time, and it creates this overall impression of complexity –

CO: And unity?

IS: Perhaps… but I don’t know if these kinds of formulas create unity. That has to come from a sort of intuitive sense of the entire shape of the piece. It’s not formulaic. He uses formulas to create local texture – he wants to keep human patterns out of the immediate surface.  Humans tend to create a certain kind of order. You can look at this room, and see there’s certain kinds of shapes that humans prefer. He wants to keep that out. He wants it to be like – in the natural world there’s a certain complexity – we don’t naturally produce that.

CO: I want to ask you more about the pieces at the concert the other night. The Random Walk pieces. Like, I really want to know about that name, for instance. But also, you said they were composed using a SuperCollider software program?

IS: Yes, but it’s not a software program. It’s actually a programming language, designed for sound synthesis. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the other [the large particle accelerator] or not.

CO: So, basically, the composer sets parameters for what sounds the computer will produce, and then presses ‘play’. And, if he ever wants to hear that same piece a second time, he simultaneously presses ‘record’; for if he does not, neither he nor anyone else will ever hear that piece again. It’s completely ephemeral, not unlike a live performance of any other improvised piece of music.

IS:  Pressing the ‘record’ button also will slightly alter the parameters as well in ways that are unpredictable.

CO: And then there’s the title of these pieces – Random Walk. I was really surprised by that. It’s unpredictable, but can you really say it’s random? Because, it seems to me that these compositions are anything but random. You – as the composer – put in the parameters, you decide each element, and if you don’t like the result, you can immediately delete it. It’s almost like you have total control at the very beginning and at the end, while in the middle, the computer runs through the patterns in ways that only math can interpret.

IS:  Well, random walk is a mathematical term. It comes from Brownian motion. Do you remember the story of the guy [botanist Robert Brown] who was looking though his microscope at tiny particles in water. He saw these particles and he saw them bouncing around – he saw that these particles were following this completely random motion, Brownian motion – and I think it’s how they realized that there were atoms, because it ended up being that these atoms were bouncing off of these small little particles and it was pushing the particles around… So if we took a very basic motion… say you have a 3-sided die, marked 0-1-2, and each number correlates to a particular movement.  And [your particle, or sound, in its own placement is affected by the dictates of the die] and you start at a certain number, 0, and you can go up a step or down a step. But it’s unpredictable.

CO: But you cannot predict which direction the die will dictate. And that’s only one example, right? One aspect of the piece, like pitch or duration?

IS:  Right.

CO: So, the title is supposed to evoke…?

IS:  It’s a random walk through a parameter space. By parameter space, I mean it’s multidimensional – each parameter you add, adds a dimension. So pitch, duration are 2 dimensions. And you could move through that space in this random walk – but it’s really like 28–29 dimensional space at this point. So imagine this random walk not just going through 2-dimensional space, but 28–29 dimensions. That’s where the title comes from. I mean, really what these pieces are, they’re sketches. Then my intention is to go on to develop pieces where I have chosen [more definitively]…

CO: But these sketches, they’re wonderful. What do you like better?

IS:  That’s  a complicated question. I sometimes think that the complete – the computer doesn’t have any kind of preconceptions, about what should happen next. So sometimes things will happen that I would never have thought of, or I would not have thought would be interesting. and I really like it. It sounds fresh, and new.

I think that’s why I do it. It lets me know what can happen in this sound world that I’ve created without any of my own preconceptions – although they always seep in. For instance, before I press that play button, if I choose a scale – well, that’s already decided something. The scale has already altered the sound of the piece. And so that’s one thing. I can give it certain… I can choose specific [how would you put it?] states. Let’s take volume, for instance. I can say choose between this volume and this volume, and so now it has two choices.  Then I can say, well, there’s a 75 percent probability that it will choose this volume and a 25 percent it will choose this one and so now I’ve made another decision.

But another example is, for instance, let’s take density – I could say, let’s start the whole piece very low density and gradually, toward the end, climax at maximum density, but it creates a shape that you can see already.

In some sense I’m letting the computer pick them but of course I’m telling the computer what to do – basically, I give it boundaries to work in and then I kind of let it go. I also tell it the rate of change – so it might change, on average, once every 40 seconds. So one parameter is volume. So I give it a center volume, for a certain amount of time, and then it changes. It could change in exactly one second [but that’s not likely] or it could change in – well, there’s a very small probability that it would sustain for one year, but the probability is so small that it never happens.

CO: I was struck by the way you just pressed “play” on your computer the other night, and sat down. If you listen to the pieces online, you know that there are five pieces, because they’re visually separated on the website. But you didn’t want to separate them?

IS:  Well, I did put in pauses. It might not have been obvious enough. I think it was kind of obvious when a piece ended, but maybe not. I guess it’s a little like chapters in a book.

I could have talked in between but I would have had to get up in time to stop it and I didn’t want to do that… I didn’t want anyone looking at the computer. I turned that away.

CO: Because when you see the “playlist” you can definitely tell when it’s changing from one piece to the next, and absent that, you – or, I, at any rate, found myself inserting my own structure. Like, oh, there’s this sustained note, or this consonance. That must be a punctuation of some sort. But, you know, maybe not?

IS:  Yes, but really, I was thinking more about the – the visual. For instance, in terms of visual, you know [the pianist] Sviatoslav Richter? Later in life, he became more eccentric – and he performed in the dark, with a lamp, and there was no other light in the auditorium. There was more focus on the listening. We’re so visually oriented that we tend to watch performers rather than listen to music.  So, I think one of the things I didn’t want was for the computer screen to be a distraction. Maybe to become more aware of sounds and less dependent on visual cues. I’ve been less and less interested in the visual aspects of musical performance, in general.

Ivan Seng in concert

I think we can if we hone in on auditory information, I want people to start having the kinds of sensitivity that a blind person might have to sound. I want that kind of attention to the sound rather than gesticulations. When a person is up there – you’re always trying to find some kind of correspondence between the visual and the auditory information. It’s interesting to see what happens when you let go of that a little bit.

CO: Density is a word that comes up a lot in our conversations here, and it’s not – well, that’s not a word often used in talking about music, in general. But it’s, you know, it’s exactly the right word for this, I think.

From dense masses of notes emerge structures that soon unravel again into chaos.

IS:  And with electronic music, it can get pretty dense! Hundreds of sounds per second.

CO: There’s no way to actually hear each sound, not in any way that you can actually interpret. So, there’s density, and there’s sound. I couldn’t help but feel like I was hearing articulation of instruments at times. There were some sounds that were less articulated, almost flute-like, and then others that sounded almost plucked. Did you do that on purpose?

IS:  When it sounds like an instrument, that’s a byproduct of the process I’m using. It’s not intentional. What was intentional was I wanted to take whatever sounds I had and through manipulating the envelope create lots of variety, and also distinct groups of sound – I mean, with huge masses of sound – I wanted some to – like if you see a flock of birds in the air, and they’re all the same kind of bird, there’s a kind of similarity. I wanted to create similarities that would create flocks of notes.

And also transitions, mutations, where you hear these dense masses of notes that gradually they change sound into something else.

CO: The envelope? Did you just say, manipulating the envelope? That’s a great phrase.

IS:  [laughs] Yes, well, it refers to setting certain parameters of sound, attack, sustain, decay… I wanted to manipulate the envelope – or, rather, the program was manipulating the envelope – to create as much variety as I could.

CO: So like when you program your algorithm, it’s possible that a note could sustain for over a year, but it’s just not likely.

IS:  Right.

CO: Because of the laws of probability?

IS:  Let me give you an example. The other night, there was a geologist talking about history of the earth, about huge climatic extinctions and meteors hitting the earth – that’s a perfect example, meteors. There’s hundreds or thousands of tiny objects that hit the earth every year. It’s something very frequent. Something not so significant happens a lot at a high frequency. And then larger, maybe 100-foot, objects hit much less frequently, only every decade or so. And then there’s objects the size of Mount Everest. And those hit like every 65 million years or so. But you never know – it’s possible that two could happen very close together. It’s just not likely.

Giant meteorites could hit us and we have these formulas that could tell us when these giant meteors could hit us but they can’t tell us with any certainty. They can tell us one every 60 million years but we don’t really know…. We live in a very dangerous universe. We can make all these predictions, but we can’t have certainty.  So that I think that informs the music. Especially with the issues we have in climate change.

We’re living in a giant exponential curve at the moment. Carbon parts per million in the atmosphere are growing exponentially. We feel it. Population is exploding exponentially. We do have an emotional connection with these things.  We are living in these forms as we speak. We can pretend that we’re living in a static form all we want, but we’re not.

—Ivan Seng & Carolyn Ogburn

Carolyn Ogburn

Carolyn Ogburn lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina where she takes on a variety of worldly topics from the quiet comfort of her porch. Her writing can be found in the Asheville Poetry Review, the Potomac Review, the Indiana Review, and more. She writes on literature, autism, music, and disability rights. She is completing an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is at work on her first novel.

Ivan Seng photographs by stephen houseworth photography


Feb 062016

Sean Riley Sean Riley in Morocco

One eye sees, the other feels. – Paul Klee

I first saw the work of artist Sean Riley at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY. His exhibition “Everyday Will Be Sunday” included paintings, sculptures and a series of quilts made solely from his father’s clothing (ordinary blue jeans and sweatshirts, etc.), which he inherited upon his father’s death. These garments were painstakingly dismantled and reconstructed into incredibly moving art objects, one quilt featuring hand-embroidered words from a traditional gospel hymn, “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, When I Lay My Burden Down, Everyday will be Sunday.” There are some mysteries about these works I would like to leave intact; others that have become obsessions, which have stayed with me since 2012.

Indeed, many poets have written about the clothing of the dead. There’s Anne Carson’s “Father’s Old Blue Cardigan,” and “The Sadness of Clothes” by Emily Fragos, but I have found no art with the impact of Riley’s. And so, I have repeatedly watched the few video interviews of him, one with artist Michael Oatman, one with Tracy Baker-White, and caught a few of the phrases, a few of the subjects that interest him, as if trying to find loose threads upon which to pull when engaging this thoughtful, sometimes reticent young man.

Exhibition View EDWBSEveryday Will Be Sunday, 2012
[Exhibition view, Arts Center of the Capital Region, Troy, NY]

MKJ: You speak about collecting objects of utility and having an interest in simple objects that have an honesty or truth inherent in them. What do you think elevates ordinary things to the realm of “sacred” (if this is the correct word)?

SR: I certainly don’t find all utilitarian objects sacred, and that’s kind of why I like them, because they can be so ordinary. And I think their ordinariness comes from the fact that they are created to perform a specific task, and in that, their form becomes very unique in order to perform that task. I have a particular interest in kitchen objects, because they can be so strange. Sometimes I don’t even know what they are made for, but can tell they are very specific to a certain task.

I like to leave room in my own practice so that the function of the work or purpose of the work dictates the form. I try to allow any type of media to be possible or available to me when I’m working, so whether it be quilting, embroidery, painting, or sculpture, it’s all there to serve a greater purpose, whatever I’m following, or whatever I’m seeking.

MKJ: You also talk about the connection between “the eye, the hand, and the picture plane.” Is it the original investment of the maker’s eye, hand and time that elevates objects? Is the special quality inherent in the object?

SR: What makes something sacred is what I’m exploring in this body of work. To me, the fabric that I’m using, the fabric that I’ve inherited from my father has become sacred to me. It cannot be replaced. The denim I have of his, there’s a finite amount of it. It can’t be regenerated, and so, to me, that’s sacred. The challenge is in trying to make it into art and trying to do justice to the material without exploiting it.

No More Wednesday - detailNo More Wednesday (detail), 2012
[hand-embroidered inherited denim segment]

(de) Weave I - detail(de)Weave l, 2014
[inherited denim segment weft removed by hand, 12 x 36″]

So, if you were just to look at denim jeans and I told you that they were my father’s and that my father had passed away, they probably wouldn’t mean anything to you. But if I could do something to alter the fabric in a certain way, put something of myself into that fabric, then I think that it has the potential to be sacred (or appear sacred) to many more people than just myself.

I’m trying to figure out how to do that and I approached it in the quilts that you saw on exhibit at the Arts Center, and since then I’ve been trying other means to do it as well: like deconstructing the denim jeans into fragments. I am now taking the denim down to individual threads, removing the individual weft strands (all done by hand), in a very labor-intensive process.

MKJ: Your quilts are certainly of a different essence than many so-called “memory quilts” or craft quilts, in my view. This is not to devalue the work of others, but yours are certainly elevated to “high-art.” I’m trying to get at what made this happen. There was certainly the presence of your father in the clothes, his hard work, day in and day out, and your care in dismantling them, pressing them and re-working them, adding commitment, dedication, ritual, and devotion. But I think it could have to do with the way the quilts evolved from your paintings in some organic way as well. Certainly the quilts could not have happened without the paintings.

SR: Right. I think it’s important to remember that when I decided to make the quilts I had never sewn anything in my life. The idea of memory quilts has been around for a long time, but to use the inherited clothing to make quilts, to me was a radical idea, because it meant learning a whole new craft to carry this out. So I didn’t have the skill and/or the baggage of a quilter going into the project. All I could really offer was my knowledge as a painter.

Gearing up for the quilting project, before I started cutting the clothes or sewing the fabric, I started making paintings and collages that mimicked quilt-making procedures. I was researching how to do that and then doing it in my paintings, making strips on paintings or with collage and joining those strips together to make a full rectangular image. When I finally came to the quilts, I had a general idea of how to do it, at least in two-dimensions, and I brought to it my color sensibilities and my compositional sensibilities as a painter and the first couple of quilts were quite rudimentary, simple in their construction. But the visual experience with them is very rich, as I knew how to manipulate color, space and form.

HurricaneHurricane, 2009
[gouache on canvas, 20 x 16″]

Triangles CrazyTriangles Crazy, 2009
[gouache on unstretched canvas, 88 x 66″]

MKJ: And I understand that you sew on your grandmother’s sewing machine.

SR: Right, so there’s that connection to ancestry that I never really considered before.

When I think of what my goals were with the quilts, I knew I wanted to keep them anonymous, so that there are no real signs of my father in them. There are no logos, no images, and no “text” in the fabrics themselves. There’s nothing you could really point to and identify with my father. I did that intentionally because I wanted the viewer to approach the works and hopefully be moved by them just because of their visual qualities, and if it stopped there for the viewer, that was fine for me. But if they wanted to go further and read the text on the wall or read the exhibition label and find out that they were made entirely from my father’s clothing, that would add another layer of meaning to the quilts.

MKJ: I would argue that it had an additional effect (which I have also heard from other viewers): it tapped into a collective consciousness. I believe this relates to a narrative or memory embedded in the artworks, embedded in the body, in the fabric, which is what I was trying to get at earlier, a shared memory, or “collective loss.” And I think this generalization on your part facilitated that effect.

EulogyEulogy, 2011
[inherited clothing quilt, machine-pieced,
hand-tied, hand-embroidered, buttons, 94 x 72″]

Clearly we are not the lone authors of our narratives; rather, our self emerges from our interactions with others, (as George Herbert Mead and psychologist William James told us). Did you know that this narrative effect, this transference, and collective response would happen?

SR: I think so, simply because for some reason I was drawn to the quilt medium. Looking back, it just seemed to be the natural choice. Like I said, the memory quilt has been around for a long time. There’s an inherent property to fabric that we identify with other human beings, a tactile quality, a softness that relates to the human experience. So I think it was very fitting for me to deal with my experience of loss in an artistic sense by using fabric. It’s not something I would even try to approach in a painting or drawing. It never made sense to me in those mediums, but it does in fabric.

MKJ: It’s so interesting to me that even though those quilts don’t have the specificity you described, they do indeed seem very specific. It’s an enigma!

SR: That’s what I realized. They are very specific because they come from one person’s clothing, and that person had a palette, a style. My dad was a fairly simple person, at least stylistically, so that the clothing has uniformity in many ways, and that becomes very specific to him. And I have a specific visual language, which I’m imposing on the clothing as well. So even though I tried to keep it anonymous and broad, there is an underlying narrative to it.

Broken Dishes VariationBroken Dishes Variation, 2010
[inherited clothing quilt, machine-pieced, hand-tied, 94 x 75″]

MKJ: When I think about our selves emerging from our interactions with others, and the possibility of your work being an exploration of the self, and certainly an exploration of your relationship with your father, as well as a tapping into the collective, I’m also reminded of a performance piece by Marina Abramović , documented on video by the PBS NewsHour in one of their “Brief but Spectacular” moments. She describes how she invited gallery guests to sit across from her in silent presence as she stared into their eyes for an extended period of time. There were some people she knew, some that were strangers.

Your work somehow reminds me of hers, in its meditative quality. Like Abramović, I find you to be fully “present” in your work, and in “Everyday Will Be Sunday,” I found that you did in fact invite someone (your father? the viewer? yourself? all of these individually?) to metaphorically sit across from you in silent presence. Your work and hers, in my view, require the viewer to be fully present as well. Can you elaborate on how your work is an exploration of the self?

SR: I like the idea of a viewer being silently present in front of my work. I hope that they can experience the same joy and wonder that I did when creating the work. My practice is certainly a quest for understanding myself. That is certainly at the root of it, an understanding what I am capable of, what I’m not capable of. I am constantly trying to push my own personal boundaries in an attempt to create something very unique.

I think that working with the inherited clothing has allowed me to explore that. I’ve begun a deeper exploration of myself, my place in the world, my own personal timeline on the planet, and of what objects we leave behind and where they can then go. Working with my father’s clothing has led me to look at my own personal art and artifacts differently and consider how they become evidence of time and our existence.

MKJ: You have also said to me, “And now after seven years, I can’t really make the paintings without the clothing/fabric. It is always in my mind – that what I am doing is ultimately a study for what will happen to the fabric. It has really changed the way I approach painting – I see it completely differently. My understanding of these works and the process is directly related to my other studio work – painting, drawing, collage.”

You are currently working on a series of shield images, which I find fascinating, because after all, isn’t the quilt a form of shield, both protecting us and encasing us? An art object with a protective property? I saw a video of the layered process involved in the making of one of these pieces and it does look very much like a quilt-making process. Is this true?

SR: Yes. I made my last quilts in 2013 and since that time I’ve been using fabric in a lot of other ways. I’ve really been exploring the fabric much more deeply, looking at how it was made, how the fabrics were dyed, and really getting into the process of weaving. At the same time, I’m also looking at the form of the shield throughout many different cultures. It’s a much more open form and can really take just about any shape, from full-body size to something that can easily be held in the hand. But it always has a relationship to the body.

And that’s what I’ve been most interested in. Of course the quilts also have a relationship to the body, because they’re made to cover the body (or two bodies), so they have this certain scale and the shields have that same idea of scale or proportion, but they are much more malleable. And I’ve been really excited about that; I don’t feel as constrained to a rectilinear framework. I can do much more in the shield format.

I’ve also been using a lot of elements in my painting and collage work that I’ve learned from the quilting process: like the binding of the quilt, the tying of the quilt, the different types of marks you can get with thread. I’ve done things like sew on paper or use the sewing machine without thread to mark paper. I’ve embroidered into paper and made marks that resemble embroidery. So, at present in my studio I have fabric out, the sewing machine and embroidery, as well as painting, drawing and collage. And it’s exciting because they’re all speaking to each other.

Shield Study Yellow Blue StripesShield Study with Yellow & Blue Stripes, 2015
[acrylic, gouache, watercolor, colored pencil,
pencil & charcoal on Arches paper, 40 x 26″]

Shield Study lShield Study l, 2015
[gouache, acrylic & colored pencil on Arches paper, 40 x 26″]

When I’m approaching a painting, making marks for a painting, I’m thinking about how those marks would translate if they were done with thread or through embroidery or with the sewing machine. How would they translate in a real, tactile sense? But then, because it’s a painting, it has much more freedom in a sense than a fabric work could have. And from that freedom I also learn about how I can push the fabric work in different ways, ways that I might not have gotten to if I hadn’t learned them through the painting process.

MKJ: So they are all interconnected.

SR: Very much so. And when I come up against an obstacle in the painting I usually find the answer through the fabric and vice versa. Answers for the fabric can be found through painting. It’s a great relationship that I think has a lot to give.

Shield Painting lShield Painting I, 2012
[acrylic, gouache on canvas, 18 x 14″]

MKJ: It is so natural for humans to resist uncomfortable emotions that it is touching to find someone courageous enough to move toward grief, reminding us that a quilt is also something upon which we can lie down in surrender, and a shield can be something that empowers us. We reach another enigma, because it seemed you made your loss public, yet you did so in a very reserved, quiet way.

SR: I have come to think of the quilt as protection or ar