In the Center Gallery, Kingston Gallery associate member Anne Sargent Walker is showing mixed media paintings in an exhibition titled Can We Bear It, which asks us to consider our impact on the environment. In a discussion about her work I asked her the few questions:
The layers are peeking through in most, but in some, as in Here So Briefly, entire cityscapes appear in the distance. What do you imagine is behind the lush greenery and nature that is slowly dripping away? What do you imagine will remain?
My paintings are about the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our natural world. The abraded surfaces, or places where other imagery peeks thru the foliage as in Here so Briefly simply imply that all is not as simple as it looks- that we have taken a toll on this earth and that habitat is being destroyed, the planet is heating up, species are dying out. The collaged images are just man made spaces, altered, that have impacted nature around them. I don’t want to hit people over the head with depressing images or didactic ones- I just want people to see beyond the main imagery in the painting, and perhaps think about our relationship to these places and other species.
What are the species you are working with in this series? Are you working from photographs? Can you describe your process while working in the studio as you are painting these works?
I have almost exclusively used birds as my metaphor for all of nature. I love them, they are small enough to paint actual size, and they are powerful symbols of loss in our world. There are 3 billion less of them in the skies than there were 30 years ago! Many bird species are on the brink of extinction. However, I do paint other animals: deer and fox mostly. One of the paintings for this show I did recently when I heard that a White tailed Buck had crashed through the plate glass window of a beauty salon in Long Island, scattering patrons, and then exited through the broken window. It was amusing in ways, but then I thought our world has become so small or overpopulated that the intersection between wild animal and human activity has become
My method is usually subtractive, in that I paint in layers but never cover everything up. As I paint over layers I decide what to let peak through or to remain in entirety. Many times the bottom layers are acrylic paint that I slather or pour on with no rhyme or reason except to get the surface covered. Subsequent layers may be either acrylic or oil, but the final detailed images, namely the birds, are in oil. In the hand series I use pencil.
In a conversation with artist and Kingston gallery member Susan Emmerson about her show, Tears Along the Edge in the Project Space, I ask her about the process and materials used in her unique approach to art making:
There is a visceral reaction to the Hundreds Still Missing form, in its charred and melted form, that is quite different from the Tears Along the Edge work with its fragile form with hints of color. Have they been installed in the same space before? Is there perhaps a conversation happening between the two and what does it mean for the viewer to be in-between them?
I will be interested to see the conversation that develops between the pieces, as they have never been shown together before. In both I allude to the imagery of a devastated landscape and the profound feelings of loss of home and community triggered by such scenes of destruction. I explore the concept of solastalgia; a deep longing for a home or way of life that is forever altered by environmental change, and a similar though not perfectly translatable term in Welsh, “hiraeth,” which describes a profound homesickness for a home to which to which one cannot return or that may never exist again. My goal is not to preach to viewers about the science of climate change nor present a didactic map of the Florida coast but inspire them to perhaps contemplate the human emotional toll that the irreversibly changing natural environment will take on all of us.
I usually include this quote with my artist statements as it defines the motivation behind my work:
All art is here to prove, and to help one bear, the fact that all safety is an illusion
– James Baldwin
What is your process in the studio working with the Tyvek? What types of tools do you use and processes do you go through to get the fragility in some of the work?
Tears Along the Edge is composed of about 40 separate units made of painted and molded Tyvek. I painted sheets of Tyvek measuring 2-3 feet square with various acrylic colors the heated it so it curls in on itself, forming capsules with a white exterior and a painted interior surface. I then take these and make openings in them with a wood-burning tool, exposing the painted interior and making them seem skeletal; fragile and exposed. (See photos) I fix them to the wall with entomology needles, long thin pins usually used to impale dead insect specimens.
For Hundreds Still Missing I took black Tyvek and repeatedly melted and manipulated it to form the collapsed piles, then glued smaller pieces together to create the form of the final piece. I coated it with gloss varnish to better define the details and augment the melted appearance.
Nat Martin: Studio Views is on view in the Kingston Main Gallery, Anne Sargent Walker: Can We Bear It is showing in the Center Gallery and Susan Emmerson: Tears Along the Edge is on view in the Kingston Project Space through February 2, 2020. An opening reception for all is Friday, January 3, 5-8pm. Special event: Open Mic Poetry Night with Lewis M., Friday, January 10, 2020, 7:00-9:00 pm