Nature as Inspiration

Ask any artist and you’re likely to be told that they’re inspired by nature.  It’s a given.  Nature is full of wonder and for artists it provides an impetus to create.  We see color, line, form and texture and it gets incorporated into our drawing, painting, and sculpting.

When Robin and I moved onto our 20 acres of woodlands, we immediately began sculpting the landscape by adding shrub borders, flowers and vines.  We relied heavily, though not exclusively on native species in order to support an abundance of wildlife.  Using the “architecture” of the rolling landscape and the tall trees we were blessed with, we’ve created habitat for more pollinators–bees, butterflies, moths, and birds.  We’ve added water features for amphibians, reptiles, dragonflies and fish.  Brush piles in various places in the deep woods provide habitat for mammals.  It’s all good for the health of the environment.

A walk through the “yard” area (approximately 3.5 acres) surrounding the house and studios will give you glimpses of countless species of birds, lizards, amphibians, fish and mammals.  The sights, sounds and smells provide a soothing experience of nature at its best.  We can not help but be inspired to create work that embodies the balance, texture, colors and forms of Mother Nature.  Our collaborative work is all about these things.  It is a discipline based on meditation.  From the crackled surface of the pond mud to the bark on the trees:

Some Things Are Just Meant To Be

When it comes to making art, not all pieces are equal.  No matter how long you’ve been creating, the process is never the same, the results are not predictable.  Copying something is one thing, creating something new is entirely different.  So Robin and I have been working on a series of sculptures around the theme of books.  Books and art are full of meaning and it seems natural to us to combine the two to play off of each other.  Back in June I made a backplate  in a crackled finish  that I painted to resemble a gaseous star galaxy, not unexpected from me since much of my work the past  15 years or so has been inspired at least partially by our place in the cosmos.  Resting on it I placed three “tablets” with copper books on them.  As soon as Robin saw the finished piece he immediately said, “Oh, it’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!”  I loved it and thus it was signed an named so.

We took it to Ann Arbor and it was well received, but it didn’t find a home.  However, on Labor Day weekend in Chicago a lady asked permission to take a photo to show her husband.  She later called and asked us to bring it by.  The house was full of people celebrating a birthday.  There were oohs and ahs over the piece,  not only because it is beautiful, but the home it found was perfect in every way.  The lines, the colors and the materials meshed with and complimented those in the beautiful room it now resides in.  We couldn’t be happier with the results.  But people make a story and this couple is very special.  He is in hospice, and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is his metaphorical roadmap.

  Hitch 1Hitch 2

Jewlery for the Wall and its Cosmic Connection

Back in the late 90’s I returned to my fascination with the circular format.  I had visited it before in a series of landscapes.  They were largely a romantic homage to Mother Earth,  usually with a surreal feeling.  These two I still own.  The first is “Cactus, Crystals & Cries” and the purple one is an “Homage to Mother Earth”.Cactus, Crystals & Cries e Homage to Mother Earth e But by the late 90’s the round paintings had morphed into round relief sculpture,  devoid of objects, but not devoid of subject matter.  Not for me anyway.  They looked like large brooches and thus the name Jewelry for the Wall was catchy for a web-site, despite the fact that in art world terms, jewelry is ordinarily purely ornamental (code for not fine art) and thus personally political.  Political in that it is a personal statement of who the wearer is.  It can reveal rank, personality, mood, identity, etc.

For myself, I saw these sculptures as symbolic designs and meditative icons. They spoke of cosmic awareness,  cosmic connection, sacred space, sacred ground.  All of this was revealed in the shapes and movements, and titles.  The circle inspires the concept of one.  We are one.  We are not separate, not really.  We are connected to each to each other and to everything else in the universe.  That is the basis for life and until that is understood and accepted, we continue to destroy everyone and everything.  So I started these pieces on a round format and then intersected it with lines and shapes and textures.  It was in my mind connecting the ideas of sacred space, sacred geometry and myth and science into a beautiful mandala of sorts.

Cosmic Lullaby

This piece, shown here on my kitchen wall before it was shipped to the patron, is a sculpture from my Cosmic Lullaby series.  The 4 pieces cartwheeling down the ladder are shapes that I repeated on many pieces and I called them nebula’s, a term describing an interstellar cloud of gas and dust.  The long straight bars form a ladder, another motif I’ve used often.  The crackle on the round backplate has a spiraling pattern like the galaxies in our universe.

 

 

 

Another motif I’ve returned to often is the horizon, which plays major importance in our vision of landscape,seascape and in our understanding of the theoretical boundary of a black hole in space.  It separates light and darkness.  Here it is on a piece called “Distance”

Distance

The circular orbit is another cosmic motif I’ve returned to time and again.  Here it is shown in a piece called “Lunar Orbit”.Lunar OrbitsI’ve also used the motif of the wave often.  The wave refers to the movement of energy whether it is sound, light, water or particles.  Here it can be seen on “Jazz Nights”.  On this piece and others as well, I combined symbols that evoke messages of rhythm, the cosmic round, the ladder to heaven and the cubes are a symbol of Earth.  Jazz Nights

I introduced a variety of cultural influences in this body of work also.  I refer to these loosely as the East Meets West series because they invariably have subtle shapes that evoke cross-cultural ideas such as eastern architecture with latin rhythms.  Examples shown below are “Window to the World” from the Samurai sub-series,  and “Flamenco” which combines an eastern roof-line feel with the nebulas and a hot Latin painting.

window to the worldFlamenco e

I was never good at communicating face to face with people about my work in anything other than how it was made, the materials and tools used, or the color.  Anything else and I always reverted to that childhood mindset that  I couldn’t make myself understood to those around me, or that they would disapprove.  The closest I came to explaining my relief sculpture was in the WSIU Expressions with Najar in which I told that The Queen of the Night was inspired by the book of photographs taken by Cosmonauts and Astronauts and that was true, but it was just a small part of the story.  Queen has those classic elements that I use to convey the spirit of the Universe.  That’s her meaning.  We are one with the Earth and the Earth is one with the Cosmos.  It’s our sacred duty to respect that.  Queen of the Night

Touching Trees

Daily I watch the trees that form a cathedral in our yard.  I love them, I feel safe, in their arms and standing on their roots, shaded and cloaked from the outside world’s harshness.  I’m grateful for those trees, inspired by them and in awe of their beauty and strength.  Season after season I see how they grow, how they respond to their neighbor plants, the weather and ultimately the climate.

I was thinking that I rarely touch the trees, really.  I toss firewood around (we heat both of our very large studios with wood from our 20 acres),  pick an occasional fruit or flower from a tree, or sometimes trim a limb.  But that’s not the kind of touching I mean.  I’m referring to feeling the essence of this living, breathing, digesting, growing, decaying giant.

The other day I communed with one of our large Shagbark Hickorys.  I find this process most helpful:  Placing your bare hands, fingers pointing upwards, against the bark of the trunk at shoulder height, look up the length of the tree, lean slightly into the tree, then close your eyes and allow yourself to feel the energy, the power surging through the tree. After maintaining this stance a comfortable period of time, open your eyes to the stairway to heaven.  This time, you can see more detail and complexities of the bark and crown and branching and clustering of leaves when they’re present.

I like to be reminded of the sanctity of life, of the natural order and of the interconnectedness of everything in the Universe. We’ve lived and worked here in these private woods for 24 years.  When you do that, you become very aware of how much the landscape changes, not just the seasonal changes, but how much living, growing and dying factually goes on and how it changes the character of the landscape vignettes.  And not just in the plant-life, but the very earth itself.  Valleys deepen and widen, waterways change course, hillsides shrink.  The landscape is alive.

That life spirit of the landscape is what is inspiring to so many artists, including ourselves.  It’s about monumental forms, lines, light, color, texture, fractals.  It’s more than one mind could ever comprehend.  It’s an endless muse.  It can draw us outside ourselves to see how we fit into the all-inclusive tale of The Gaia Theory.

Here’s a link to a useful article on the benefits of tree-hugging: http://www.ewao.com/a/1-tree-hugging-now-scientifically-validated/

 

Success/Failure

All artists go through a continuum of successes and failures.  It’s inevitable if you are truly following the artist’s path because it is one of exploration and discovery.  It’s the same for explorers and scientists.  The old adage no risk, no gain applies to the creative  process.  The longer you work the more successes you tend to have and so you reach a plateau.  If you’re going to climb any higher you have to experiment and that’s risky business.  Artists put so much of their emotions and soul into their work that failures are very depressing.  It’s at that point that the little demon in your head can  start jabbering about your lack of talent and skill and you might just start feeling like the art police are just around the corner waiting to break down your studio door and take your paint brushes away reprimanding you all the while for pretending to be a real artist.  If you’re creative, you know what I’m talking about.

Artists have to muster their courage everyday in the studio to make something wonderful and meaningful. It’s a constant journey filled with potholes, detours and roadblocks, but it’s necessary if you want to create.  A hack can get in there and just have fun–a true artist has to push themselves.  The rewards (not necessarily monetary) are great, but the disappointments are too.  Passion urges you on so you’re helpless to avoid the success/failure/success pattern.

Different Bodies of Work

Most visual artists work in series, that is producing a number of pieces done in the same medium with a common theme. It’s a logical way to explore and experiment within certain parameters.  Robin and I don’t like being confined  so we’ve explored a lot of mediums and materials.  Each has its own characteristics and associated methods, but we like to mix it up.  I get bored easily and consequently am often working on multiple series, each in a different medium, during the same time period.  It may have to do with attention deficit disorder, but it also has to do with the fact that I express different ideas in different mediums.  It also has to do with the fact that I have to pay the bills as well as grow my potential.  It amounts to a balancing act.  Different series for different markets is the same as an artist “getting a day job”, only better, much better for a variety of reasons.

Jewelry For the Wall is a collection that I’ve produced continuously over the past 14 years.  All of the pieces are basically paint on wood, with the addition of a few other materials used for surface ornamentation and texture.  The common threads are the materials, with a dependence on color, texture and geometric shapes, punctuated with rhythms and flowing line.  They serve as meditative icons as much as ornamentation. These images are where I bring together my scientific and spiritual interest in the cosmos and our place in it.  Our place in the cosmos is married to our approach to the environment.  We are more than a species living on the Earth and dominating it.  We are part of the whole living entity known as Earth.  An example of one from this series shown below is “Lunar Dance”.

My clay sculpture and most of my drawing over the years is about my immediate experience in life.  They are definitely a projection of my personal state of mind at the time.  Shown here is “Cavewoman” from my body vessels series.

Robin favors “working with God” as he describes how the magic of patina on metal is achieved.  His patina work has the impact of a Rothko, the mood of an Inness.  He creates actual paintings without any paint or dyes.  His work is extraordinary and unique.  Shown here is “Remember Me”

Robin and I collaborate on another body of work made primarily from enamel on copper, patina on metals and paint on wood.  Unlike that of earlier periods, much of modern architecture is experienced as a series of planes with varying color and texture and that is what inspires Twitch!.  They are compartmentalized as is architecture and they are also objects of beauty, made to enhance  the living and working space created by the patron.  Twitch! is our day-job.  We are proud of the work and know it is a good value for the patron, but if economics weren’t ruling our existence right now, we’d be spending that time on our other work.  Shown below a Twitch! piece titled Frank’s Right (not a mis-spell but a play on words)

We are now collaborating on new work that is a natural outgrowth from these other series to create new pieces using more elegant materials and innovative surfaces, and exploring free-standing sculpture as well.   We will be showing this work for the first time at the American Craft Council retail show in Baltimore in February, followed we hope by the Palm Beach Fine Craft show.  Images will be available before the end of the year.

Lunar Dance

“Lunar Dance”

 

Cavewoman

Cavewoman

Franks Right

“Frank’s Right”

Remember Me

“Remember Me”

Our Paradise

When we bought our 20 acres of woodlands it was bare of man-made features.  Robin and I cut down what trees were necessary to make room for the building of our home, studios, storage building and eventually barn.  Other than making art, our real passion has been the landscaping of the site.  Though we had professional help in the building of two ponds, the rest of the labor has been largely our own. We’ve made use of most of the existing native hardwood trees (oaks, maples, hickory, walnut, ash, tulip poplar, ironwood, hackberry, cherry, sycamore, black locust, sweet gum) while  encouraging along native volunteers also such as the dogwoods, redbuds, 2 varieties of sumac, creeping charley, trumpet vine, violets, woodland and prairie wildflowers, honeysuckle, red cedars, witch hazel, sassafras, etc.  In addition we’ve added white pines, chocolate mimosa, hemlock, golden raintree, Japanese maple.  We’ve created many different themed gardens.  Each is a unique creation using the varying elevations of the land, additions of stone, sculpture, shrubs and flowers to provide the space with its own privacy and feel.

We always have several projects on-going, some of which take years to complete.  It’s just amazing to watch it grown and evolve.  And some of it is not what we hoped for, nor expected, but you learn to accept it and move on, preferably finding an unseen benefit in the making.  Like when an ice storm took out our most prized dogwood.  We mourned the loss and then moved on to a chocolate mimosa for the same site—a delightful choice for its color, exotic nature and dappled shade in the heat of the summer.  Though it’s not a particularly long-lived choice we enjoy the drama of it.  We’re in the market currently for an old brass bed, preferably with the steel springs for one of the gardens.  We are particularly captivated with the use of sculpture in the garden that allows the plantings to become part of the story as seen here with Sharon’s clay sculpture, “The Old Dancer”,The Old Dancer 3 that stays out year around, allowing the Cardinal vine to grow up around and actually through her open vessel.

The Old Dancer 4