“When a golden blob ascends to meet her, she doesn’t move to meet it. But she doesn’t flee either. The sweetness she smells and its gentle movements are soothing and non-threatening. When it communicates with her, asking question after question, she hesitates. It doesn’t take long for her apprehension to shift to delight. What good questions it asks. She tells it exactly what she wants.”
–Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon
I created the work in this series drawing from the apprehension and wonder I feel when swimming in the open water and the curiosity I have about unfamiliar life-forms. I arrived at the title The Unprepared Eye as a way to reconcile if I was creating imagery with characters and stories or painting strange unnameable forms. I started to think about times when I’ve encountered something strange while swimming in the SF Bay. A quick, harmless bump against my thigh; a tangle of a sea grass around my ear; a murky dancing form beneath me that I dare not study. It’s not that these life forms aren’t real, or even unclassified, but they’re totally new to me as I churn past them while swimming. My eyes are unprepared to process what I’m seeing; my senses can only compare the touch to other touches. I often think about the experience of swimming in the murk when painting fields of color in my mixed media work. Within the swirling plumes, forms and symbols appear.
In the year and a half I spent creating this series, I studied not only strange sea creatures, but also the history of abstract painting. Early twentieth-century painter Hilma af Klimt employed abstraction as a way to represent unseen forces like evolution and metaphysical planes. This approach resonates with my work because abstraction becomes a visual language for describing the non-visible or unfamiliar, rather than an exercise in distilling painting to its fundamental elements. In several of the painting’s titles, I present the viewer with a hypothetical scenario rather than describe the scene. In the oil pastel drawing “If We Witness Growth” we’re presented with a being that could be microscopic or cosmic but its tether to reality is its display of growth. In The Unprepared Eye, I invite the viewer to imagine their own first encounters with the unfamiliar and how they might recount and describe the emotional memory of that first meeting.