detail, Northern Coordinates
detail, Specimens (with Ibis)
detail, Old Glories
Approaches to Imagery and Abstraction
Source materials for my recent work, some embedded beneath layers, are wide ranging, from the gestures of penmanship, to pen-and-ink drawings of birds, to avian migration patterns, to maps of the earth’s magnetic field, to aerial landscape views, and to scores of artists who have come before me.
I use language, in the form of silkscreened facsimilies of 19th century handwriting, to explore abstraction. And I use abstraction to get closer to understanding subtle meanings behind words. In recent paintings, my study of the natural world is folded into my long-held interests in Spencerian penmanship. Many of my paintings seek some sort of equivalence between handwritten letterforms, various species of birds, and pure gesture. In other works, including the most recent series, letterforms are deeply embedded in multiple layers, peeking out from slivers within more reductive fields, with superimposed lines echoing both the letterforms and the natural world.
Many years ago, I came across some handwritten correspondence that changed the way I look at the world. The manuscript archives of libraries and historical societies are where I pore through linear feet of boxes of family papers, bank ledgers, business journals from the 19th century. Looking at one particular handwritten letter, I was suddenly awestruck by how a single penstroke can conjure an era so keenly. Can the shape of an alphabet convey meaning? Can we “see” words without reading them? Indeed, the shape and ornamentation of letterforms reveals things.
In the 19th century, good penmanship demonstrated that the writer was disciplined, self-restrained, and virtuous. For me, this phenomenon of line gets to the heart of visual expression. Even though handwriting style was rigidly dictated, it’s still a form of drawing.
In my work, I explore what happens to letters in the context of composition, color and space and the materiality of paint.
A note on my technique: I digitize the text samples I come across, and burn the image of the text into a photosilkscreen. I can then print onto a stretched canvas. What is important to know about this technique is that the bits of text that appear in my paintings are exact facsimilies of historical artifacts. But I’m not necessarily interested in the content of the words, because I’m using language as imagery in my paintings.
How did I become so captivated by the shape of language? My high school was in Tangier, Morocco. The “look” of Arabic signage was perhaps my first awakening to the abstract power of line.
My fascination with the power of line, either as printed artifact or hand-drawn, has propelled my work forward for many years. A closer look at the natural world has uncovered new pathways and approaches to gesture and line, color, texture, composition—the language of painting.