Monday, June 20, 2011

collisions with the sublime- new work

Dusk in the Last Canyon.  Oil on vellum.  42 x 32."  2011.

Wolges at the Gate.  Oil and enamel on vellum.  40 x 32."  2011.

The Wolf.  Oil and enamel on vellum.  10 x 10."  2011.

The Great Hunt.  Oil and enamel on vellum over digital print.  10 x 10."  2011.

Sebastian's pelt.  Oil and enamel on vellum over digital print.  10 x 10".  2011.

The Museum of Dying Giants. (exterior).  fake fur, pine trees and needles, fiberglass sculpture, oil paint on vellum.  2009.

Jelly.  Fiberglass, oil paint and fabric.  Dimensions variable (hoods 30" diameter).  2005- 2011.

The above paintings are almost all oil on vellum, often painted on both sides or with images behind the paintings, so that ghost images show through the dominant image.  They range in size from 10 x 10" to 8 feet.   Many of these works play with the idea of the sublime- of the Romantic's take on the natural world, occasionally by initiating a literal "romance" with nature in the guise of wolves, etc.  In all of these images, the subjects attempt to initiate a romantic connection with nature, but, due to the disassociations of modernity, they fail in strange and spectacular ways.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

new mexico- sand, silos and skins

The above photos were all taken a couple of weeks ago at White Sands, New Mexico.  Millions of years ago, there was a sea... and it left layers of gypsum in the mountains, and now, as the mountains erode, the white gypsum sand is swept into the Tularosa Basin, with nowhere to go.  And so, in this strange, dry, landlocked place, there is a beach, two hundred and seventy square miles of the most pristine white sand imaginable, piled into steep dunes that are constantly shifting and reforming under your very feet.
Miraculous.  Also, the visitor's center cheerfully supplies sleds for visitors.

Petrified hot dog.

New Mexico is a strange place.  Quite shockingly beautiful, and also a bit dire in its poverty; even Albuquerque seems a bit shoddy, and Santa Fe, though charming and historic, has a slight Disneyland quality.  There are, in New Mexico, vast stretches of really nothing at all- just yellow, dust-filled, hot wind across a yellow vast flatness, with the occasional antelope carcass to relieve the eye.  And, in places, odd little communities that seem like outposts from another country- collections of adobe houses and farmland that are sometimes quite lush and lovely (especially near Taos and the highland areas).  But  towards the south, near White Sands National Monument, this otherworldly beauty exists.  Ravishing at sunset, relentless at noon, and always laced with a faint unease.  Trinity site is quite nearby, you see- maybe just over that dune right there.

The missile testing base at White Sands is very much an active and bustling institution.  There is a small, poorly maintained museum of various US missiles and bombs- all rusting away in the fierce sunshine- and an indoor museum (or offhand assemblage of whatever they had floating around in storage) describing the development of atomic testing, the Cold War, etc.

I climbed into the gun turret (?) above, and discovered that two small, darting swallows had made their home inside.  They seemed very shocked to find me in their small territory.  The phrase "Guns to plowshares" has always had such a timeless an moving quality.  I know that it would be cheesy of me to say something along the lines of "guns to bird's nests..."  Sorry.

The exhibit curators apparently had no idea who made this rather glorious, and glorifying, painting of a U.S. rocket racing through the storm clouds.

This vitrine contained a mock-up of a fallout shelter.  There were supplies and instructional safety posters, and this life-sized mannequin resting on an army-issue cot.  I suppose that I would be equally wide-eyed if I found myself in a fallout shelter.

The gents on the base got rather bored at times.

And- before I switch out to the next topic- can I just give some props to friend and fellow artist Chris Dacre?  I was reminded of him because he was teaching printmaking right outside of White Sands- and considering the ideas behind his work, it seems that he must have found a terrific amount of material out there.  You can see more of his work at

This wonderful little taxidermy shop was near Taos.  It was packed inside, and absolutely stinking of Bondo.  Looking at the exterior, I rather expected to find it abandoned, but two impressively courteous and friendly guys were beavering away inside, and they seemed more than happy to show off their craft. They were perfectly fine with me taking pictures, and were very informative about their -apparently- highly successful concern.  I wanted to take the shop sign home with me.

...filling in the styrofoam mount and attaching the horns

...stretching the skin over the mount

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ursa Major and an exercise in printmaking

My last post, discussing Ursa Major (myth, constellation, and mining legend) put me in mind of a project I did recently.  Strange- to name the world's largest dragline after a bear- a wild thing.  Even more strange that Ursa Major was not a boar (male), and that original myth, when examined, is not a story of some great warrior beast- she was in danger, endangered, and was turned into a hurled grip of stars to protect her....

Anyway, I was reminded.  
Of a recent sweet sort of project, a woodcut that I did of a bear (ok, it was actually cut on Centra- easier to carve, but same essential principle).  I am not normally a printmaker, but there is something sort of antique about printmaking that I love.  I live with a printmaker- and from hanging around him and his kind, I have come to realize that printmakers can talk shop with a single-mindedness that can only be matched by musicians.  This is evidently because the equipment and tools and accouterments of printmaking are often old, and beautiful, and laden with history- easy to fetishize!  The techniques are the same as they have been for a hundred years (though a radical new generation has adopted printmaking recently, giving it a fierce and contemporary vitality that has opened up new worlds for this old art form).

.... the finished print.  something like 4 feet tall.  sorry about the watermark (which is not on the original of course.) 

We wound up printing this with a steam roller at an event that boyfriend had organized at the college- yes, the big piece of equipment used to squash asphalt into place.  It was quite good fun.

Another recent print, this one in conjunction with a project at the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona....


The Buckhorn Bar?  Saloon? in Laramie.  Est. 1900.  Has a legitimate bullet hole in the mirror above the bar.  And endless piles of taxidermy.  Apparently usually filled with a heady mix of ranchers and university students.  As we were there at 2 pm on a Monday, we had the place to ourselves.  My two companions- Wyoming boys both- looked on indulgently while I stood on bar stools and photographed everything in sight, with the unseemly enthusiasm of an east coast girl coming across a visual "find."  

Two-headed calf at the Buckhorn Bar.

The majority of the photos above were taken outside of Gilette, in Northeastern Wyoming.  We were there visiting some folks, and the photo directly above is pretty much the view directly outside their back yard.  The grasslands are wonderful- eerie, with a constant scouring wind and a sky so enormous it becomes elemental, a substance that you are swimming through and its own presence, the subject of things rather than the background to other things.  The songbirds on the grasslands are surprising- they are everywhere, and singing constantly, and their songs have a more piercing sweetness rising over the lonely wind, and heard against such bleak views.

The strange thing about the photo directly above- do you see the very low, dark hills on the horizon?  If you were to walk to these hills, and climb over them, you would see the other Wyoming landscape; a similar emptiness, but dotted with strange massive structures, often with a curved belt dropping away from them and strange smoke puffing up.  The mines are so active in these ares, it is possible to stand in one spot, perhaps a couple of miles outside of Gilette, and see maybe five separate mining operations at one time.  You can drive quite close to them on the dirt roads, but with trepidation; these places do not like to be photographed.  There are odd things, too- signs that tell you to avoid the "orange cloud" and to beware because you are in a blasting area.

Partner grew up in this part of the world, which partly explains our visit.  He is the one who makes work about these things, and he has many really quite astonishing photographs of the mines and mining equipment.  Am trying to pursued him to do a guest post...

Ursa Major as depicted in Urania's Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825.

Ursa Major, the largest mining dragline in the world.  Photo found on

I should write about Wyoming, and the road trip, before the last of it slides out of my memory (which has all the retentive capacities of a wet cheese-cloth, the sieve metaphor being overused).  

As Colorado segued into Wyoming, the landscape became a touch more lonely, though still retaining its green forest and farmland bent- but the wide fields now bore the occasional power plant, quietly breathing vapors in the golden late afternoon light.  This was, I think, the beginning of my way of understanding this trip-  I seemed to repeatedly find myself in wide open spaces, natural spaces, which had mysterious man-made things left on them.  Massive things- coal mines and power plants and refineries and forgotten wreckage of various kinds.  Occasionally tiny, far-away movements could be seen in these massive, dour landscapes- a bright hardhat bobbing far away in the grayness, a plume of smoke, or the movements of a dragline in the distant carvings of a mine face.  We drove past Ursa Major outside Gilette in Wyoming- such a romantic name, and I may need to adopt it for some creative title or project.  Especially now that I know how the names of the stars have been applied to heavy industrial equipment- Ursa Major, the largest dragline in the world, lives in Wyoming.  No longer Callisto, the girl seduced by Zeus and turned by him into a bear to protect her from Zeus’s jealous wife- but a massive piece of mining machinery used to scrape the overburden away, revealing the coal seam underneath.  I must admit that I don’t quite understand the mechanics of it- how does a bucket dangling on a cable have the power to move tones of earth?  But clearly it works- the mines, terraced like some eastern rice field, plunge down to giddy depths, pits on a scale that is not to be believed.  We could not get a good photo of Ursa Major, this so romantically named beast that ponderously chews its way through thousands of feet of soil and minerals.  She was too far away, on the other side of the Black Thunder Mine, and obscured by rain. 

She weighs slightly under fifteen million pounds.