The history of abstract painting fascinates me. In particular: the invention of the term, the debate of who was the first abstract artist and what constitutes true abstraction. Swedish artist Hilma af Klint posits that the aim of abstract art is to represent the unseen world; a mystical and scarcely understood world. What was scarcely understood in Klint’s lifetime is drastically different from my lifetime. In her early twentieth century world, the understanding of evolution was in its infancy and forces like infrared light seemed magical; now we study glacial melting for definitive proof of climate change, and we pore over the sky looking for Earth-like exoplanets. As my research interests have expanded, I realized I needed look beyond only western abstract painting to explore the notion that abstract art represents the unseeable, and unknown.
On a recent study of the Aboriginal Australian painting collection in the Seattle Art Museum, I realized that abstraction has been a tool for representing and connecting to the subconscious world for centuries before white European and American artists identified with the term. In aboriginal paintings “The Dreaming” or “Dream-Time” is a realm where the spiritual, natural and moral world intermingle. The idea of a wavering memory drives my own work—the mixing memory of a realistic dream with one that leaves only an emotional imprint. This body of work includes mixed media cut paper pieces, colored pencil drawings and acrylic paintings. A common link is their exaltation of the rhythms of an invisible or overlooked world.
My cut paper works begin with the expression of a dream memory in the form of a color field—atmospheric and nebulous. Furthermore, each cut paper work could be categorized by its representative atmosphere: above-ground, below-ground, underwater, on land and in space. Within this mysterious space, its occupants exist along a spectrum of opposites: biological and mechanical; menacing and delicate. In these works, I diverge from creating recognizable beings, but instead borrow from universal devices and features found in representing the organic and synthetic: the jointed arm, the pinching claw, the net that gathers and the aperture that spews. Working in cut paper interests me because it allows for both intense planning and free-form experimentation. When I’m drawing and cutting out my more elaborate creatures, my reference material might include electron microscope images of algae or a section of a spider’s web. As I create imagined environments with layers of marks and milky puddles of acrylic, I imagine distant nebulas and gaseous currents in deep space.
My drawings and acrylic paintings utilize botanical worlds as a starting point. Beginning my creative process with photography, I gather imagery from the Regional Parks in the Oakland Hills and the forests in my childhood home of West Michigan. Throughout my life, a key part of my happiness has been when I escape the city to be surrounded by the forest. I think of my hikes as research expeditions where my aim is to witness organic abstraction. In the studio, hovering between enlarging the oddities of the natural world and creating fictional plant life, the paintings inspired by my expeditions are both disorienting and highly active. A dense clustering of spiderwebs that act as a soft-focus filter on the forest floor. A festooning of droplets across a web and a pulsing mass of insects on an instinctual pilgrimage. My painting style centers on exploring color’s role in summoning emotion. Can a cluster of muted orange sticks titillate? Can a protruding root bathed in dusk-light cause the shoulders to slacken? The afternoon fluorescence of a maple on the Lake Michigan coast–can it enliven a spirit?
My approach to abstraction is an invitation to escape from the logical and identifiable. I propose a journey to the outstanding realms that exist in our periphery. An internal, unfamiliar world described in emotional terms.