Saturday, July 2, 2022


 "Passengers"   32" x44"


another detail

Separated layers

  More separated layers
Even more separated layers
I experimented with combining the layers in differing configurations

As you can see from this example, there are a few possibilities to choose from
or this example...


Who doesn’t look at the kings, queens, and jacks in a deck of playing cards and wonder about their design? Well, I certainly did from the moment I saw them! Later, I came to recognize their Gothic origins—mainly from looking at the page in Owen Jones’ “Grammar of Ornament” and recognizing the distinct stylistic tendency to put a recognizable, readable human face and hands into a very diagrammatic abstract setting.  This is something I have been interested in…forever.

Also, intriguing was their topsy turvy nature and the repeating motif holding a flower.

So, that’s one of the origins of the piece.  Last winter, I finished a large piece, “Flight Patterns” and knew I was facing a rigorous teaching schedule (three classes, three different schools) so I thought I ought to design a piece that worked in that time frame.  “Flight Patterns” required sustained focus and a global perspective—meaning I had to constantly be concerned with how each part worked with its neighboring part and with the entire composition.  For me, I cannot just dip into a piece like that when I have time.  It’s in for a penny, in for a pound.  I need to keep it foremost in my concentration until it is done with no breaks.  And I was able to do that.  But spring semester was going to be the opposite.

I needed a piece I could engage with in small intense increments, then leave, totally break concentration, and reconnect with easily and do more intense small increments.  That means working with a component that has tight parameters yet allows for total improvisation within those parameters. I wanted an element of chance.  The layering technique I use most of the time allows for this—one can design the layers to tightly correspond to each other, or you can design them “devil may care” and just see what happens.  I chose the latter for this piece. I more or less randomly chose faces from my sketch files and added some designy stuff, like the face cards and also a hand holding a flower.  And I was off…

The idea was to make about 50 oval components. Each oval was to be treated as its own world with no concern to how it might relate as a layer or in the entire piece.Then, I would match them up (layer them) with a partner creating a “face card” look, with one oval right-side up and the other upside down, so they could face either direction (and I intend to have the lightbox to hang either way as well). 

One of the things with this framework is that the oval components can combine in almost infinite ways.  You can pair up an oval with any other oval and each pair offers a lot of possible conformations, upside down, (so if you include which direction it is facing, there are up to 16 possibilities for each pairing.  But what constitutes an obviously a visible difference creates more like 8 options.  Of course, the possibilities are almost infinite when you cross pollinate ovals. 

In terms of experimenting with the possible final, “winning” pairings, I sought a certain amount of intrigue as well as a certain amount of legibility. I hoped to be delighted and surprised by some of what arose with images, patterns, colors, and designs that are made by the chance pairings.  Then I would pick the best ones for the final piece.  This is more or less how it played out. I should say that of course, some of the combinations were just flat out terrible!  That happens!

I had a lot of thoughts as to what it all added up to meaning-wise and although I know you are all perfectly capable of coming up with your own story for my piece, I will tell you some of the stuff that floated around in my noggin.  First and foremost, they looked to me a lot like what one might encounter if they were scuba diving near a fresh shipwreck (hence the title). 

Second of all I thought about myths wherein one is seeking the lost parts of their soul in order to feel a sense of wholeness (like that of Aristophanes, the idea of “soulmates” in popular culture, etc).  I mean, we all have a nagging sense that its possible to find someone or something that resolves us completely, understands us and heals us…why do we imagine we need this?  Are we all the walking wounded?  I imagine yes we are—that to be born and to grow up involves a human sacrifice—mainly we sacrifice the idea of our own perfection and on some level that causes us to grieve the loss and/or always be seeking to address it.  And I thought about how impossible it is to heal that wound and probably not even a desirable thing to do—I mean, to come to terms with life on its own terms is ultimately better, no?

Those who are spiritual seekers may grapple with this better than I. Unless one is very zen, one will always feel a sense of yearning for that thing which completes us.  Death, maybe, marks the end of that journey.