One of the most dangerous unspoken threats we are facing is the insect-apocalypse currently underway. As the foundation of ecological webs as well as an essential part of our food production, the disappearance of pollinators presents a grave situation, yet few speak of it. While creating studies of pollinators native to Maine, I sometimes feel inclined to cut them out to collage on various backgrounds. With the voids, I build collages that integrate reproductions of the DOW Chemical Plant landscape that I painted in 2009. Filling the voids of these bumble bee forms with the saturated textures of the original landscape speaks to the impacts of chemicals that fill our spheres. Even the word ‘pesticide’ reduces our perception of value by blanketing judgement across the whole insect world without recognition of the role that beneficial insects play in a balanced approach to agriculture.
With eleven month old Thatcher Gray on my back, we meander our way though Chichicastenango’s Saturday market, awash in vibrant Mayan color and patterning. Starting with stone lithograph prints of rain forest inspired drawings, tracked with fresh tar then torn into squares, the process represents the fragmentation of Mayan land and culture. Atop this foundation, cultural persistence is demonstrated by Mayan traditional practices maintained despite Guatemala’s history of atrocity.
When I first returned to Colorado from living in Hawai’i, I had a bad case of island fever and felt compelled to drive through the wide open landscape of the southwest over the course of a couple of weeks. I wanted to see contemporary art in Marfa and visit Big Bend while in bloom. So I set my sights on western Texas through an area that is still not considered ‘settled’ as defined by era of western expansion. From other road trips through the area, I remembered that they do not pick up roadkill, but instead let them slowly desiccate in the dry climate. My project en route was to photograph these cadavers as a poignant reflection on the impacts of mobilities. Later in Denver, I created a foundational texture by driving over large pieces of strathmore paper with my truck to print the treads with fresh tar they had recently laid in my back alley. Incorporating this unconventional printmaking technique allowed for a literal representation of circumstance. Woven into the tracks, I created pencil drawings as portraits of the life lost on the road. It was difficult emotionally for me because I love animals. But I felt that the it was important to convey this loss and put a lot of love into the lines as they were laid. I finished this series for an exhibition on extinction for the Denver Botanic Gardens.
Before I knew I was pregnant, I went on an adventure with a group of sound artists into an abandoned slaughterhouse in Commerce City just north of Denver. My colleagues were inspired to create work in the space after hearing about out creative sessions in the blast tunnels of the Titan missile silo. They wanted to make music while channeling the charged energy that filled the space. While they produced music through practicing a style of Tuvan throat singing alongside drums and a didgeridoo, I wandered the haunted spaces convening with the ghosts of the animals who met their demise to meet the insatiable demands of a national diet centered on industrial meat. I photographed a series of interiors that I later used as source material for this set of mixed media paintings created in the first years of Thatcher Gray’s life, when I was exploring the industrial food machine. Integrating paper that I had shot with a shotgun and run over with my truck to print tire patterns with fresh tar, I painted the equipment with with watercolor and colored pencils to pay homage to the life lost here.
Motherhood changes us. For me, the arrival of Thatcher Gray caused a shift from explorations of the long term impacts of war to an internalization of how we nourish ourselves. Internally, I was growing a child, nourishing him within then using my body to feed him, so I became acutely aware of what I was putting in my body. As he started eating solid food, I became obsessed with where that food came from, how it was grown and the load of chemicals that could potentially add to our body burdens. We started growing our own food. Before creating artworks that emphasized solution oriented practices, I explored how to represent the impacts of petrochemicals. This series of mixed media works on paper integrated a base texture made from a silkscreen print of collaged plastic that I had singed with a blowtorch. I transferred photographs of the oil refinery in Commerce City, just north of Denver. These photographs were taken during a rainstorm while Thatcher was safely cuddled at home with grandma. They are abstracted by the movement of my car as I was driving by. Generally I like to compose landscapes with slow consideration, but this particular afternoon I was confronted by hefty plain clothed security guards within 3 minutes of stepping out of my car, even though I was on a public avenue. The angles of the drive by photographs coupled with the often blurred motion recorded by the camera added a dynamic quality to the compositions that are similar to the textures wrought by a shotgun blast, both processes being slightly out of control. Into this foundation, I painted out aspects of the industrial landscape with oils to highlight the skewed angles and add atmospheric depth.
As my pregnant belly swelled through the second trimester, I resided at the Ragdale Foundation on an awarded residency to work on a series of mixed media works depicting the confined shrines I photographed in Myanmar 3 years prior. I was struck by how many Buddhist shrines were kept in cages under lock and key and felt the images were a poignant reflection of the political climate. Some of the works contain Burmese newspaper collaged in. They were created with a xerograph process which involves transferring xerox copies, in this case of high contrast photographs of the cages that surrounded the shrines. Atop the transfers, Embedded within the cages are the golden shrines, well tended aside from being caged.
During a visit to Cuba in the winter of 2000, we had the opportunity to partake in a blessing performed by a Santaria Priest, just outside of Havana. We witnessed the sacrifice of a pure white chicken, the blood of which added to the layers caked upon his shrines, which added a deeply visceral quality to the forms sculpted by use over many years. The room was dark, lit only by a couple of small windows and candles that were nestled into the organic forms of the shrines. The practice largely grew from African traditions brought to the island during the forced migration of slaves. The materials that were used could be seen as common, yet they were imbued with significant symbolism which allowed them to be used as tools for prayer during these dynamic rituals. Chains represented enslavement and rusted railroad spikes carried the sleek energy of the rail as a passageway or path down which we may release our energy in the world. Tree branches were incorporated as representations of the transfer of energy between earth and sky. Home made dolls incorporated a human element into the mix. Eggs were incorporated within the act of the ritual as a powerful symbol of regeneration. Feathers used as symbols for freedom. It took many years for the experience to settle. Ultimately I created a series of mixed media works on paper integrating stone lithography, collage, rust stains and drawing with oil pastel, spraypaint, chalk and pencils. The largely abstract works are intended to capture the feeling of the space, and the shifting, almost swirling energy produced by the act of the ritual, which culminated in the representations of the shrines as fragmented. It’s as if the energy imbued in the symbols that made up the shrine were breaking apart to lend their energy to the acts performed within this space.