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September 2014



When I began writing about "Hurrying" a few weeks ago, just past the creation myth, something deep down started to get weird. I began to uncover multiple unexpected connections; things that happened throughout my life that were linked to making that painting.


One thread of the "Hurrying" story is about multiple meanings in a single image; like seeing both a maze and people hurrying in the same picture. There is more to say but I first need to introduce another thread and bring it up to date, especially because events this week have returned my attention to the figure/ground relationship. In "Hurrying" the figure and ground are clearly separated with a contrasty pair of color opposites, yellow and purple; the walls of the maze are purple and the people hurrying are yellow.



On the days when the fabricated world entangles the world my body inhabits and the world that I'm not separate from; and every creative effort suffers from herd mentality, siege mentality, and sentimentality; and my computer runs slowly for no reason like the memory is gunked up, and the thoughts in my head are gunked up, too; then, in the midst of all this, if I'm patient and pay attention, not judging good or bad but just looking, the unique character of the moment is revealed.

The second thread to the "Hurrying" figure/ground story involves my father's side of the family. A week or two ago I thought I fully understood the story I was telling around the maze painting. I was going to continue that thread by describing meaningful figure ground reversals that have been signposts in my art practice; but during a quick research trip to google images I was startled to recognize a long forgotten image that predates "Hurrying"; so I'll tell that story first.

My father's parents lived in Shreveport. Their apartment complex had a pool where we swam. When I was 3 I remember falling in the pool fully clothed just before we were getting in the car to drive home. We visited my grandparents for events like the Louisiana state fair. We ate out at Sansones where my grandmother seldom liked the food she ordered but my grandfather was always willing to trade dishes with her.

Their apartment was interesting to me. Lots of quirky personal items like bronzed baby shoes. an exercise bike, and an asian screen painting in the living room where the sofa had a plastic cover. I smelled a lingering oder of moth balls in the closets and wondered about the scotch tape over some of the light switches to prevent them from being used.

Most of the walls were covered with family photographs but in the den, visible just as you entered the apartment, hung a framed reproduction of a 1902 drawing by the American illustrator Charles Allen Gilbert titled "All is Vanity" , a classic figure ground reversal. The drawing depicts a young woman sitting at a vanity, but wait, squint your eyes and you'll see a skull.

So I am sure I knew this reversal effect very early in my life and had some sense of the double meaning of images. The skull alarmed me and maybe this is why I suppressed the memory. Now I know that the picture is intentionally scary, a momento mori or reminder of death. What lies unrecognized in negative spaces?






Note the changes,
Leaves turn outside and
Attention turns in.


Patient revealing balanced
On disciplined practice,
One story enfolds another.

Back from the city


The 3 golden treasures of our time are revealed:

Precious water, precious trees, and precious air.



Treasures to be found right in front of my eyes


Guarding my thoughts, letting them run, and giving the process some space.

Tonight as I was trying to settle down and meditate
I remembered the story of how my body
and mind converged in drawing for the first time:

It was 1989, I had finished my MFA degree and was teaching
Computer Art but I had not stopped studying.

I was struggling with a drawing class,
not with my technique, but with 'getting it'.
I could never reconcile the marks on paper
with the results I desired from making art.

As usual, I had too many ideas.

My drawings looked interesting
but why did they feel lifeless?

I could always find a note but never a whole chord.

Where was the resonance?

After conducting a series of self-directed experiments in drawing class such as: drawing everything with straight lines, applying graphite so thick the powder drifted off the page and down onto the floor, and random charcoal smudges which I then scratched away with a key; my drawing teacher picked up on my desperation and we had a little talk.

This was her advice:

If you want to 'get it', lock yourself in your studio and draw nonstop for three days.

Surprisingly, I found I was ready to undertake such a journey; she had given me permission to let go entirely into an impulse I would never have imagined I loved so much.

I left work early the next Friday, the start of a three day weekend, picked up falafel, went back to my apartment, and began to draw.


I was living in a one bedroom on East 88th Street in Manhattan, my studio was a tiny closet just off the kitchen - probably about 100 sq ft. - no windows, where my drawing table and a pile of maps just fit. When I finished geology grad school in St Louis and moved to New York City I brought along several hundred decommissioned USGS topographic maps; large sheets of free archival paper. I liked drawing on top of the maps although I didn't know why but most of my work in those days was done on the maps.

I ate my sandwich and started drawing, working until about midnight and then crashed. I was pushing an oilstick around the maps and making a mess. I got up early on Saturday morning and only had coffee, I took out a pencil, sat in a chair and began some detailed doodling.

Saturday morning, completely absorbed, sunshine and blue sky turning unexpectedly stormy, sheets of rain on the bedroom window, keeping to my table, justified in staying put, I indulged myself in the lavish practice of dissolving Schmincke extra-soft artists' pastels into water I pooled on the maps; never suspecting how privileged an undertaking but only concerning myself with the density of the pigment and how pronounced I left the lines.

In seeing my concern with articulated lines, a teacher once directed me to study van Gogh's pen and ink drawings of flowers and gardens, knowing I would notice how his marks were both descriptions of the visual and maps of the physical space. I'm sure that somewhere in this three day experiment those observations came back to me and my diagrammatic compositional style was born. I felt van Gogh's affinity for mapping the natural order of the french countryside and used this to guide the mapping my own interior spaces.


The rest of that rainy Saturday was spent developing ideas about diagrammatic composition; noting that a map was readable both informationally and pictorially. I wanted drawings that were self-conscious of both. It was a slog to keep inventing visual devices because most didn't work well but I managed to stick with it all afternoon.

For dinner I got sushi delivered from Enka, the greatest sushi bar ever. I loved sitting for hours at their tall bar, eating agedashi tofu, drinking sake and watching the Yankee game and the fact that I stayed home from Enka that Saturday night to draw should tell you right there how serious I was about this studio lockup exercise.

After sushi, I hacked with the pastels and thought over the diagrammatic logic. I found myself in the familiar spot of having great justifications for the work but no release; something was still missing. Suddenly it was midnight and I crashed.


Late that Saturday night I dreamed I was face to face with my muse.