Blog 5: Poetic Language

Gallery view, Sound the Climate Alarm, 2020

This is the fifth and last in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. Here are links to the first four:

Blog 1: Artist Statement: Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 3: Symbols and Themes

Blog 4: Making Art in Covid-times

Fire (detail)
Cranes Over Fence (detail)

Poetic Language

Sound the Climate Alarm is, in broad terms, my response to climate change, animal extinction, barriers, border walls, and the pandemic. I was happy to discover the writer and poet Mathew Zapruder’s description of how he views the language of poetry, because I think it is a helpful way to think about the images in my exhibit, too.

Dee Dee Dee (detail)

Zapruder talks about poetry as “language freed from utility.” He says poetry is how we “get to the truth that is beyond our ability to articulate.” So where, in my drawings, chickadees sing razor wire, there’s a cardinal honking, or a paper boat is lit on fire, I think these are the kinds of images Zapruder was talking about, intended to “produce an effect in us, rather than to communicate information.”

Red Arch (detail)
Skateboard (detail)

So, while I am working with specific themes in my art, my images are intended less to communicate information than to evoke impressions, inspire imagination, and spark concern.

Installation of paper crane drawings, Lawrence Arts Center, 2020

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Artist prints are on sale in the gallery

Blog 4: Making Art in Covid-times

This is the fourth in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. Here are links to the first three:

Blog 1: Artist Statement: Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

Blog 3: Symbols and Themes

 

Making Art in Covid-times

 

My most recent work for this exhibit includes art that I have made during the pandemic. I am fortunate and, yes, privileged, to be mostly working at home. During this time, I’ve created two of my favorite pieces in the show.

Light, 2020

One is a drawing originally intended to celebrate renewable energy, titled Light (above). I like this drawing because through the creative process it became more complicated than I had first imagined. Instead of inspirational, as I’d initially intended, the windmills and power lines became oddly dark and industrial, not the utopian renewable energy future I had hoped for. And the mixing of birds and windmills in the piece led one viewer to tell me about bladeless windmills – I’d never heard of them. Similarly, the archway of drawn light bulbs, meant to look radiant, includes dated-looking bulbs, not energy efficient—what was I thinking? Yet the incongruity in the drawing feels right during Covid-times, because nothing now is right, and we’ll never have a climate change-free utopian future or the perfect technology to make it so, but, as in this drawing, we still should try.

Phoenix Rising, 2020

I also created a collage piece, titled Phoenix Rising (left), that merges silhouetted hands as birds rising from the archway made of orange and yellow thread, representing fire. This piece evolved over time. I didn’t know what it would be until I had painted and glued down several layers of cloth and thread. When I discovered the crux of what I wanted to make, I was very pleased.

 

Although these recent pieces are among my favorites in the show, I have also found Covid-times to be a difficult time to create art, especially on the theme of climate change.

Mask, 2020

It was hard for me to think about climate change with Covid raging. Early in the pandemic, I made a piece about Covid, the kind of piece that other artists were making too, a masked self-portrait (above). As I thought about including a piece about Covid in this show, I remembered the quote from climate activist Naomi Klein, which I used in Blog 3, that “every disaster contains every other disaster within it. Every fire is a conflagration of all the other fires.” And so, it seems. Climate change is likely to bring more pandemics; both climate change and pandemic disease bring greater harm to people already harmed by racism and economic inequality; and the ongoing crisis has destroyed the jobs especially of those who are already poor. An impending climate crisis, a raging pandemic, a painful economic crisis: disasters within disasters, fires within fires.

Two Birds, 2020
Helicopters, 2020

In my art-making world, Covid-days are long, but the days fly by. My creative process is like moving through molasses, and I suspect I’m not unique. Early on in the pandemic, I couldn’t get anything done. What I felt done with, though, was climate change as a theme, at least for a while, and done with Covid in my artwork, too. I wanted to make small drawings on paper. I would try to make a piece every day (that didn’t happen), and I wanted to experiment with gouache. I made seven little drawings as part of this goal, some with pen and some with a combination of pen and gouache. While these drawings didn’t overtly further my climate-related theme, making them was therapeutic, and I included them in my climate change show anyhow.

 

In my next and final blog in this series, I’ll conclude with some thoughts on poetic images, and on how I hope viewers will find my exhibit interesting to look at.  

 

Cat, 2020

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

 

Blog 2: Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

This is the second in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. The first blog in this series is available at this link:

Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm

Robin, Been and Gone in Animals exhibit, 2015

My exhibit Sound the Climate Alarm includes drawings, mosaics, and collages on themes related to climate change, animal extinction, barriers, border walls, and the pandemic. My focus on climate change and related themes goes back about six years, to 2014. That summer, I had a small exhibit at the Phoenix Gallery in Lawrence called Animals. I had just read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book called The Sixth Extinction, and in it she describes and explains the mass extinction of animals that is going on today and all of the ways that this process of mass extinction is caused by human activity, including killing animals for feathers and tusks, spreading invasive species, destroying habitats, and climate change.

(left) Death with Cardinals (detail), 2019, and (right) Death with Chicken, 2015

I began making mosaics and drawings in scratchboard and clayboard about extinction. One piece, a mosaic included in the Animals exhibit that is not in this show, focused on robins sitting in a tree (above). While one robin is in full color, the others are obscured or silhouetted to suggest that they had been here but now are gone. I also created some small black-and-white scratchboard drawings of animals in cartoon-like scenes, where the animals are leaving, or being disrupted and carried off by the character Death. I included one of these in my current exhibit, titled Death with Chicken (below), and the influence of Death appears in a more recent piece, too, Death with Cardinals (left).

People’s Climate March Maker Speaker Party, 2014

Another influence on the early work in this exhibit, also from 2014, was a local community event called The People’s Climate March Maker/Speaker Party (left). I served on a committee that helped produce this event, a solidarity event with The People’s Climate March in New York City. At the march in New York, as well as at solidarity events around the globe including ours, there was a moment, at noon eastern time, where the hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the march paused to make the loudest noise they possibly could as a way to “sound the climate alarm.” The folks at the march made a huge noise; they whooped and hollered and used everything from sirens and honking horns to instruments and party blowers, to make a very loud noise.

Sound the Climate Alarm, 2015

After this experience, I became interested in the phrase “sound the climate alarm,” and made some art based on these words (right). I may have latched on to this phrase because I enjoy visualizing sound in my art, similar to how a cartoonist might visualize sound, where marks and lines stand in for the plinks, pops, buzzing, music or anything else I want the audience to visually hear.

(left) Birdsongs, 2015, and (right) Party Blowers, 2015

More of those first “sound the climate alarm” pieces are in this show, too, including a mosaic with birds (below left) whose shapes are silhouetted to indicate presence and absence, with colored lines coming from their beaks to represent sound, and the sound then moves in and around human ears. If we really could hear the climate alarm, what would it sound like? Maybe the climate alarm sounds like birdsongs.

I included visual-sound in a few other “climate alarm” pieces too, including a couple small pieces with people disrupting birds with party blowers (above right), and in the piece Death with Chickens that I mentioned earlier, where Death chases a Prairie Chicken with a blaring-saxophone. The images of people blaring horns and instruments are a way to indicate the hapless disruption of animals by people unaware of their own destructive activity.

With Nature Sing, Bethel College Mennonite Church, 2018
Heating Up exhibit at the Lawrence Percolator, 2016

Additional influences on the work in this show include projects completed between 2014 and 2018 that are not a part of this show but share environmental themes, including two mosaic installations – a mosaic mural at the Free State Brewery in Lawrence, Kansas, and an installation of six small mosaics (above) at Bethel College Mennonite Church, in North Newton, Kansas. Also, in the Spring of 2016, I worked closely with a committee who facilitated a large-scale community project called Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change (right). It was a month-long series of cultural and educational events that involved more than fifty local artists, poets, and musicians, along with faculty and students from Lawrence’s two universities, and representatives from arts and environmental organizations. Heating Up was an exciting project and boosted my interest in responding to climate change in my own artwork, too.  

May You Be, 2019

In the process of looking back at my art over the past six years, I recognize that in our society and culture, value is often measured in monetary or financial terms. But artists can represent a different kind of value through the language of art – beauty, care, alarm, loss, grief, pathways, possibilities. In my next blog, I will share ideas about how I have used themes and symbols as part of this language in the more recent work that I have in this show.

 

Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.

Exhibit at the Lawrence Arts Center, Oct. 30 – Dec. 21, 2020

I am excited to announce the opening of my exhibit at the Lawrence Arts Center titled, Sound the Climate Alarm. The exhibit runs Friday, Oct. 30 – Monday, Dec. 21.

Visitors are welcome to come and see the exhibit in person. But sadly, in Covid-times, there will be no opening reception. There will be a virtual tour led by gallery director Ben Alvers, of my exhibit along with the exhibit of artist Lindy Chambers and an author interview with Marla Arna Jackson, at 6pm on Friday Oct. 30, from the arts center’s Facebook page or YouTube channel. The virtual tour will be archived at the YouTube link for later viewing as well.

I am also offering in-person artist talks, limited to ten people per talk, on 3 different dates that you can sign up for. The talks will be: Sunday, Nov. 8 at 2pm; Thursday, Nov. 19 at 6:30pm, and Saturday, Dec. 5 at 4pm. Here is the sign-up link.

The arts center is pretty low-key these days with limited in-person activities and social distancing, and masks are mandatory. So I really hope you all can find the time to come out and see the show.

Here is the announcement on the Lawrence Arts Center’s website.