The idea of something foreign intimidates many people. Words like
unfamiliar, strange and separate are not usually characteristics that most strive to describe themselves with. But for me, they are exactly the qualities I want to convey in my artwork.
I can recall the exact moment it hit me. I had heard the faint vibrations somewhere in the distance from my doorstep, but had no idea where or what they were coming from. On my first venture into town on a sunny February day, I realized the noise came from crossing walks, accompanied by flashing green pixels and a pulsating button. The ringing was piercing- loud enough for pedestrians to acknowledge through their headphones full of hipster music. But for some reason it struck me as cheerful. Here I was, bright-eyed and thirsty for culture, about as far across the world from home as I could be. Wellington was finally a reality.
As an American studying in New Zealand, I feel foreign on a daily basis. The way I say tomatoes, the way I miss the leaves, the way I refuse to wear high socks with shorts. Growing up in a small town in Connecticut was the kindling for the sheltered life I led growing up. Moving up from one small school to the next. Attending a traditional figurative art academy in America with one hundred other students taught me to focus my skills and greatly shaped my work habits as a painter. I focused on six hour figure drawing sessions and learned how to get the colour of a shadow just right, with maximum studio time and minimal academic study. I enjoyed the nights that turned to mornings that I sat and worked until paint was crusted around my brows and my stomach was aching with hunger. But the study was too narrow and I wanted something more than tunnel vision. Making the switch to Massey reflected a major shift, both in my art practice and my environment. I greeted New Zealand at the gates with wild hopes of grasping a bigger educational experience before it was too late.
The two schools of art could not have been more extreme in their differences. A workbook was a difficult concept for me to incorporate into my artmaking. My first page ever was filled with a list of Things That Are Proving Difficult:
Finding art supplies. Starting over. All my supplies are in Connecticut…and here they are so expensive.
What is the code to get into studio?? [Update: 6025]
Typography class is taking over my life. Huge regrets.
Paper sizes….? What is an A3? Right. I need to learn the metric system.
My obsession with change, inversion, and unknown environments is evident in my work. Experiencing these concepts on a personal level drives me to create, express and share my interest in them. My study at Lyme Academy forced me to learn the rules of painting before I could break them. However in recent years I have been drawn to creating more conceptual art, melting together ideas of landscape with illusion, abstraction, and new materials. A newfound love of acrylic ink and paint combined with an interest in materiality and the angst that only a twenty-something-year-old could have sparked a dramatic change in my paintings. Suddenly my countrysides became charred, and my still lives turned to hellish depictions of blazing cities. Rigorous study with an acclaimed second year tutor from Israel showed me how to use paper materials such as magazine clippings and newspaper as an underlay to my paintings. The technique shifted my compositional process from preconceived thumbnail sketches to a more open-ended, intuitive process that came about during the paper application. The reinvention of my art practice allows me to expand my love of landscape and interest in environment and express it to an audience using different, more conceptual techniques.
The paintings I made for my current work are unmistakably formatted to direct the gaze of a viewer. Originally paintings, the works ultimately took their final form as prints. The vast whiteness and sharp edges of the negative space around the cross-like shapes enforce focus on the central paintings. Cross sections of painted space range aesthetically from celestial skies to the silky hair of a horse’s tail. The paintings combine colours and textures intended to evoke memories in the viewer while simultaneously mixing them with mine. While precisely visually focused and strictly formatted, each work is left open to conceptual interpretation.
It was like rubbing your eyes after staring at the sun reflected across the lake for too long. Clarifying colour patches and soaking in haze.
Despite the unique painterly qualities of each print, there are common threads connecting them together. Influenced by short, sharp memories, each work is in the shape of a flattened packing box. These portable worlds, stemmed from places of my past, bring together foreign and familiar environments. In one painting, the blue linear strokes recreate the dark and murky color of Long Island Sound. I am trapped underwater, grasping the muddy bottom with my toes and choking on salt. In another, the fiery October vibrance of maple trees that line Route 80 do nothing to quell the sorrow I feel when I look over to the passenger seat and you are no longer there. I am fascinated by the idea of creating accessible foreign worlds and imagined environments in my work. I have a natural attraction to paint, the way it feels like butter beneath my palette knife, the way it smells like potential. As a lover of nature, I have always been drawn to expressing this demarkation between landscapes. New Zealand is also a constant inspiration in terms of environment, from the waves in Lyall Bay on a stormy day to the vast number of landscape artists who live and work here. Through the medium of art, I can bridge the gap between unfamiliar environments and my past, and viewers and I can share common ground in experiencing a new place.
It is late enough in the afternoon that the sun rakes across the windows and windy enough that they crash and rattle over the instrumental music in my ears. The range of pots of ink and paint across my desk looks like a laboratory for the creation of colorful, toxic concoctions. Swirling tubs of black and red, jars of muddy water, and a trail of paint-covered rags litter my studio. I am caffeinated, I am lonely, and I can hear every squeak of your chair. Inhale the gritty, dusty fumes of worn away graphite and get to work.
I had always thought home was a place. 10,000 miles from the life I knew. If I close my eyes, I can see the flashing red lights next to the ferry. I can smell the warm scent of puppies and your cigarette smoke wafting over the porch. I can feel the oppressive, heavy heat of a humid night twisting in the top bunk of my cabin. I can taste the sweetness of the pumpkin beer we drank in your basement and I can hear the crackle of the stones in the driveway beneath the tires of the station wagon. Even in the midst of young, dream-filled slumber with my mouth hanging open in the backseat, the stones always let me know we were home. In the way that only a mother can, you turned around and said to me gently, ‘wake up.’ And I think after all these years I am finally waking up. Wellington is teaching me that home is a process.