I like driving. Growing up, we would take annual family vacations driving from Chicago to Mexico. Twenty-four hours in a van watching as the world turned from urban to rural, gray to green to yellow, concrete and brick to trees and open sky. I remember looking up and drawing with the clouds. Allowing them to form recognizable objects or to imagine myself floating through their mist. Then, as the sky stretched itself into purples and reds, I’d watch as grass blurred past, lone houses in the distance would crawl across the horizon and finally my dizziness would turn into sleep.
This year has been full of travel. Corpus, Dallas and San Antonio have all been on the itinerary. With the three and four hour trips, my mind has wanted to slip into that dreamy haze of childhood. Unfortunately, as the driver I must remain aware of traffic conditions and the increase of other drivers when approaching city limits. Bummer! Driving seven hours up to Lubbock this past weekend (7/14) was different. Driving mostly on two to three-lane state highways, traffic was not as consistent as that on the interstates. The hill country views off to the sides were of fields and ranch land, and driving through barely standing Main street of a spattering of towns. Compare that to the numerous gas stations, Super Wal-Marts and car dealers on the outskirts of cities. Different time, different space.
One of the elements I played around with in the studio (oh, so long ago) was the iconography of my materials. I considered, and perhaps overthought, both the color and substance of the ground (paper, cardboard, acrylic acetate) and media (black ink or graphite, white ink, red and blue paint). Testing out the different combinations and decided on the ideal pairs. The brown of the cardboard (representing dirt/earth and skin) and the red paint (representing passion, flesh and blood) became a signifier of physical reality. The blue paint (representing sky, water and denim) and white paper (representing clouds, memories and transitions) became a signifier of the supernatural. Graphite or ink on acrylic, acetate or another transparent material (representing thoughts, dreams and text) became a signifier of fiction and intellectual/mental reality.
I crashed into those three planes of existence while driving back from Lubbock. Just south of Post (which is just south of Lubbock), the sky was a very soothing, comforting, clear blue. The purest puffs of white clouds contrasted the cool backdrop. Closer within reach, where I fully expected to find dusty plains of sand, the crisp green of the rain-fed sprouts rigidly sat on the sliver of supporting red earth. Even the black asphalt of the highway did not spoil this vision of pictorial perfection. But how did this ocean of a sky above collaborate so well with the galaxy of vegetation below? The colorwheel offered no solace for these poster-level saturated hues. How did these two fields reconcile their relationship? Looking to the horizon for answers, my sight traveled infinitely into the distance and back to 30 seconds in front of my vehicle. They’re not really meeting where I expected. Yet this image felt vividly accurate and familiar.
Is that what artists have been striving for all of these eons? The proportioned mix of earth, heaven and thought? The balanced blend of physical, supernatural and fiction? Has anyone hit upon this magic combination? Recalling the meme making its rounds (via), I didn’t think of Picasso or Matisse. Rather, Duchamp and his champions were conjured. I do like Picasso, but the compelling arguments for the Fountain swayed me. The work is physical. As a readymade, the urinal came from the new earth. The one displacing the toils of the farmer, industry. (I must admit I needed to look up the Industrial Revolution) Its gleaming white facade sang its heavenly song as a vessel for water. With no extra modification beyond its labeling as art, there was lots to contemplate.
These three planes/spheres of existence can also describe my attraction to science fiction. Think about the great work by Asimov, or if you’re illiterate, the first Matrix movie. Through the use of robots, industry has created a very gritty earth. Concrete, oil and steel. The fantasy of looking into the future and the impossibilities of tomorrow’s sciences give us something to think ’bout. Then the humanizing tales of machines growing sentience. Man made creations learning to live on their own provides religious under-themes.
Physical. Spiritual. Mental.
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.