Symbols and Themes
In my last blog, Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm, I described the sources and background of the first ideas for this exhibit. In this blog, I’d like to share about some of the symbols and themes that have emerged in my newer work for this show.
While I have included images of birds in my artwork for many years, more recently I have focused on cardinals. Everybody’s familiar with cardinals and, because of this, images of cardinals have a shared resonance. Four drawings in my show include cardinals. For me, cardinals are versatile characters, sometimes messengers, and sometimes harbingers of joy and Spring. I also include other birds in my artwork, too, often generic-looking birds that represent an assortment of ideas including freedom, the kind of freedom that I imagine goes along with flight, such as the ability to traverse barriers like walls and fences. In two small drawings I exaggerated the wings of a bird in flight to represent a mixture of effort and joy, and in another I exaggerated the wings of a sitting bird (right) to represent a mixture of exhaustion and rest.
I have included images of paper boats and paper cranes in my artwork for several years. I view the paper boats as both fragile and resilient. I’ve used the boats in two pieces that signify the effects of extreme weather; in one a paper boat is on fire (above left), and in another the paper boats are rocked around by a storm or flood. I have a few more weather-related pieces in the show, too, one that includes wind blowing a bird nest from a tree (above right), one of rain in the presence of a curiously yellow rainbow, and one showing a windchime whipping around in the midst of a microburst.
I made a small installation of drawings of paper cranes for this show, too (left). Many of us grew up learning one or another version of the story of Sadako and the paper cranes. Sadako, a Japanese girl, was a victim of radiation sickness from the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima. She tried to fold a thousand paper cranes for good luck and long life, but she did eventually die from leukemia. Over time, the paper cranes have become a symbol for international peace, and that is how I use them in my art.
In the drawings that comprise the installation, I was experimenting with drawing a paper crane every day as a ritual. I began the drawings when President Trump was threatening airstrikes on Syria, which he later ordered. As I drew, I was thinking about the meaning of the cranes and, on some days, drawing became a kind of meditation. The daily drawings were also a way for me to practice drawing and become more fluid with drawing. So, the paper-crane installation is a documentation of that process
Several pieces in the show include images of fences and razor wire (above left and right). These pieces reference prisons, the border wall, detention centers, Guantanamo Bay and, in one, titled ICE (above right), immigration policies like family separation that violate human rights. Naomi Klein recently tweeted, “there is no such thing as a singular disaster anymore – if there ever was. From Covid to climate, every disaster contains every other disaster within it. Every fire is a conflagration of all the other fires.” In my show, I try to make a similar point, that climate change-induced extreme weather events contribute to people’s need to migrate, and inhumane immigration policies deepen the crisis: fires within fires, disasters within disasters.
I also use arches or archways as symbols. In the exhibit, I use arches in three small mosaics (above), several drawings and a collage. Arches can symbolize doorways, or openings, or passageways. I think of them as a symbol for life and hope. They also symbolize safe passage through barriers, maybe even mental barriers. Some of my arches also appear as rainbows, a symbol of promise or hope in some religious traditions.
In my next blog, I’ll share about the art that I have made most recently for this show, made during the pandemic, and how the pandemic has affected my creative process.
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.