And Now, To the Other Side of the Continent…

My time in Washington, DC has ended, and now I find myself traveling on the opposite side of the country, in Salem, Oregon visiting family. In the meantime, though, it’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve returned from Jentel, and I’ve still hardly made a peep about what I was actually working on while I was there.

I mentioned earlier this month that I had started painting, and after having some time to think about my results, I think I’m ready to share them with you and talk about them a little more. I’ve been reluctant to do so earlier, because I’ve been thinking of them as “works in progress.” Individually, they’re finished… I won’t be applying more paint to the paper except to perhaps sign them. Conceptually and technically, though, I’m still working on them, so chances are you might see versions of them still to come. I’m usually reluctant to widely show work in progress, but if you’ll remember Lorie’s “better done than perfect” saying, keeping things under cover is something that is perhaps not beneficial to me for the degree to which I do it.

As you know, I spent the first couple of days at Jentel just keeping my hands busy by working on a series of bird illustrations that I had started last summer when I made a doodle of a magpie to silkscreen onto some baby onesies. These became the Jentel Birds that can be found in this gallery. Since I had the space and resources, I started to work on them more “manually”, and made a secondary series of water-colored images, which haven’t quite yet been posted to the site, but will be later.

Then, one morning, as I had just woken up, and the morning light was coming in around the curtains of my bedroom, I thought, “why draw the bird? What would happen if I just started painting markings?” I think it was literally my first thought on waking up. Usually these thoughts are something along the lines of either simple impulses like “I should make coffee”, or sleep-addled wild plans that turn out to not be very useful once I wake up a little more. This one had some teeth to it, though, and stuck with me all through the day, so I ordered some supplies, and got to work once they arrived.

That being said, there’s more behind them conceptually than that, but all of that is still coalescing in my head a bit. I’ve always loved patterns in nature, so this is certainly an extension of that interest, but I’ve also been trying to explore the unique characters of things that are around us every day, but almost completely ignored. Playing with language was a part of the ascemic work I made in the Netherlands, and this could also be an extension of that idea, in a sense.

We make names for what’s important to us. There’s the famous saying that Eskimos have more than 200 words for “snow”, which isn’t true exactly, but the concept (linguistic relativism) is fairly sound. Take our own society, for example… what does it say about us that we have so many synonyms for shoes (i.e., pumps, sneakers, sandals, boots, and so on), but only one word for “love”, which we apply to everything from our grandparents, to spouses, to spaghetti, to cupcakes? We don’t linguistically differentiate (although we often do contextually) between the love we have for friends and family, compared to the love we may have for a paint color or mug. BUT, that’s a giant aside that I should explore another time.

So, we make names for what’s important to us, but so few of us these days seem to know the names of what we can find in nature. Before we started dating, Lorie mentioned that she hardly thought about birds at all, and literally never really gave them much notice before, because they were simply “birds”. To her, they were merely little creatures covered in feathers that sat in trees chirping– she said they were basically “robins” and “other.” Now, though, she says she notices them a lot more, because I notice them, and now she’s in the habit.

I have my own blind spots, of course. I don’t really know trees and bushes very well, and grasses hardly at all. And then, of course, I’m not exactly well-versed in lichens, algae, various mosses, and mats of bacteria. I suppose this is an indication that things that run and jump and tweet and burp grab my attention a little more than, say, soil bacteria.

But, back to the paintings. Part of my intention with them is that they make something that’s easily overlooked a little more noticeable, and perhaps a more recognized part of our daily lives, regardless of whether we live in a city, or out in the country. Regardless of where you live, I’m sure it’s near a bird! Anyway, as I said, I’m still working on some of the conceptual background of it, and letting it simmer a bit as I work on the paintings. I’m in kind of the instinctual phase of simply making work, and letting the “why” emerge later as I think about it and live with it for a little while.

Anyway, I’m still letting it all come together, and will be doing some more painting once we get back to Montana. And now I had better finally get this post uploaded, after working on it on and off for the last couple of days!

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