April 14, 2010

Zen and the Art of Homes and Homelessness

My exhibition in Kansas City is now a part of my personal art history and a concluded line on a resume. I expect the fully loaded crates to be at my doorstep any day. While it was a good experience to have had a one-woman exhibition out of South Carolina once again, it will be quite some time before I will invest in shipping so much art such a long distance again. It is my good fortune that the Thornhill Gallery is picking up the tab for the show’s trip back home.
With this show on the road home, my attention is on the upcoming exhibition at Gallery 80808 in Columbia, "Locations/Dislocations: Abandoned Homes and Unsheltered Souls." The exhibition explores the theme of abandoned architectural remains so prevalent in this state through my paintings and my husband’s documentary photography. Khaldoune Bencheikh will be exhibiting drawings of the homeless population in Columbia. Part of the proceeds will be donated to the "Keepin’ It Real" ministry, which supports aid to the homeless.
There are times when I do things that follow my heartfelt inclinations even though I know that those inclinations run counter to everything rational and sensible. Perhaps that is why I am an artist. Two things about my work for the upcoming exhibition fly in the face of good sense. One is the very idea of having an exhibition that is in part a benefit when my art has not been a commercial success. The other is abandoning that small part of my painting that has been marketable in the past. Add to that a dental bill that is outrageously huge in proportion to the size of the repair and it becomes clear that now is not the time to be idealistic. (Truly, of late I’m thinking of just keeping a gap in my mouth).
Now having admitted these things as a mea culpa in not contributing to our country’s economic restoration, I’ll detail why.
Things started out well enough in my studio. Several panels and canvases were lined up at the ready - ready to receive splashes of paint spread with a palette knife and detailed with a little nylon brush. All would form small saleable paintings of architectural remains. But I found that after four such paintings, I could do them no longer. This was, of course, after painting well over a hundred such works previously. I just could not bring myself to paint one more bucolic scene of South Carolina. I was helped out a little by the recession - for even reliable subject matter was ceasing to be marketable. So I decided to jumpstart my creativity with a little experiment. I reflected on the theme of homes and homelessness, the sorrow, the fear, and the implications of being with or without a home. Then I used my three greatest passions, ancient Chinese language, painting, and assemblage as a vehicle for expressing these feelings about home. Rather than force a solution I just played with the media and let the raw materials and raw emotions speak for themselves.
I began by carving ancient Chinese on to stones to make prints. I made a series of small prints which read "having a home" or, conversely "without a home." The Chinese word for home, "jia" can have an interesting alternative meaning to a literal home. It can mean a family. Or it can even mean a school, as in a school of thought. So "without a home" could be interpreted to mean "without a school of thought" or not being a part of any particular philosophy or religion. Other prints read "A belief in Zen" "In all the world there is no other" and "belief in the spirit." I printed these in red, brown and black inks onto transparent papers. I then glued the prints onto acrylic and mixed media paintings on paper. These bits of paper were in turn assembled onto the very boards that were supposed to receive the paintings of scenes from the countryside. So now they have a very different message - a strange amalgam of fragmentation, Chinese language, and gestural painting. I did find that the details of these new collage works were very bold and expressive so I have been experimenting with painting these details large - coming in the back door to painting again. And maybe in some way in makes sense after all.

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