A discussion with gallery artist Stacey Cushner about her exhibition, Intangible Aspects of the Forest:
Your work has a sense of wonder to it and you speak of feeling that wonder as a child taking a walk. Can you describe the place or walk where you first decided to make artworks about trees and the woods?
The idea of drawing trees, which I find magnificent in form and in values, came to me when I was walking through the Back Bay Fens which is right up against the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston where I used to teach drawing. Frederick Law Olmsted planned out this park as part of the City’s Emerald Necklace green space. The design of this space and the varied old trees are still extraordinary. I would invite my students to spend time there and draw. I took many photos with my phone and started drawing in graphite.
Inspiration from old single color drawings by Millet and others brought the idea of drawing trees with using just blues – these older drawings were not in blues but in reds. I was interested in using the different values in blues to create a realistic effect. In art, you have to try different things to see what can come of your creations. Watercolors in blue and blue pencil didn’t work for me, but working with all different colors in blue pencil did. I also discovered The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben and other current books to try to understand my attachment to woodlands and forests. I realize now that it comes from a childhood place, this tiny woodland I used to frequent, where I observed plants, trees and changes in nature up-close. It drove my imagination in a creative sense.
The color blue is so unusual but captivating. What was the impulse to create these cool, blue environments?
The blues I use range from quite dark ultramarine blues to green phthalo blues that are vibrant. Drawing this way comes from the value scale that is commonly used in art. Blues are calming and give others, I hope, a sense of tranquility also. When combined with greens, it also signifies growth and renewal. Blue is a symbol of strength, trust and wisdom.
Blues are a favorite of mine. I pay attention to set designs and films to see how magical blue trees can be. When the protagonists go through the wardrobe in the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the blue trees against a white, winter background really stops you in your tracks. It’s awe and wonderment at its best. I had the same response with the movie “Tomorrowland” where stunning blue trees are depicted at the end of the movie – it’s a hopeful ending.
Also showing in the Project Space, gallery artist Linda Leslie Brown shares her thoughts on her exhibition Survival Mode:
The sculptures you create have a sense of agency, where they become newly formed creatures. Can you describe your process in making one and where you find your materials?
My sculptures are composed of parts. Some are made from ceramic clay slab and coil forms; some are cast in plaster, and many are found objects made of plastic, ceramic wood, metal, rubber, foam, fiber, or shell, or fungus. My husband and our dog help me find things on their long rambles through the city, but some parts such as the vinyl tubes are sourced in hardware stores or on Ebay. The assemblage process is at least partly aleatory, improvisational, a bit like cooking. There is a lot of tasting as I go. I have a studio arsenal of glues, silicones, paperclay, epoxies, screws and wires. Sometimes it’s necessary to break a piece apart to expose a certain quality in the materials, and then I’ll begin again. Usually, I’m looking for an element of energy or balance that unites all the different parts with a sense of purposefulness, or of belonging together in their accumulation.
The imaginative hybrids you create have a speculative nature. What are your influences?
Your choice of the word “speculative” seems apt. In one sense, my sculptures’ hybridity gives them a decidedly queer quality: of being in a trans state, of having fluid identity, of being un-formed. That fits in well with a lot of current theories I suppose. I’ve always admired work by artists whose pieces seemed capable of changing into something else the next time you saw them.
I can definitely agree that they embody a quality of being “putative, hypothetical, conjectural, suppositional and based on guesswork.” Another definition of “speculative” works pretty well here too: “uncertain, chancy, and involving a high risk of loss.” Those are some things that keep me interested in a work of art. I see those qualities in the works of Hesse, Bourgeois, Mendieta, Benglis, Voulkos and Ewen Henderson among many others.
Stacey Cushner: Intangible Aspects of the Forest is on view in the Kingston Main and Center Galleries and Linda Leslie Brown: Survival Mode is on view in the Kingston Project Space through December 29, 2019. An opening reception for both is Friday, December 6, 5-8pm.