Monday, March 26, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012


My inclinations are visual first of all. As a child and long before earning my BFA, I looked ceaselessly at nature and art; as an introvert, I come naturally to study and evaluation of my own responses. In adolescence, living near Washington DC, I spent many hours of many days in the National Gallery, just looking, honing my vision and taste. I’ve had academic shortcomings, but in the visual region of my creative life, I am most like a cultivated field.  In my musical life, I feel less informed; and in poetry I am the least prepared to discuss my own writing or anyone else’s. But this I will say: I like short poems, and short poems are what I write. Here is one I wrote which broaches my thoughts for this day: the matters of size, and scale - whether of work, or of content/intention.


umber shadow slipped
across the pallid face of
my abandoned building, growing
to partner, matching scale. This

is how perception thinks
How I figure
How to live

I might have chosen several others. This one aspires to be about one way that perception can inform a life; and I like that I had titled it “Entelechy.” For my purpose, it is simplest to think of this word’s meaning as an intrinsic quality which is an end in itself, while also a potentiality that has become actualized. (One can read a little more about entelechy HERE and HERE.)

Samuel Menashe is a poet particularly known for dense brevity in his work. In an essay in The Southern Review (spring 2008), Robin Ekis described Menashe’s poems: “Terse, tense, and compressed, they still manage to make space for contemplation.” Here is one which epitomizes the quality I’m looking for, something very small which contains a larger idea, and embodies a large ambition:


I wake and the sky
Is there, intact
The paper is white
The ink is black
My charmed life
Harms no one - No wife, no son

(The poem was excerpted in the review from the book, Samuel Menashe: New and Selected Poems, edited by Christopher Ricks, in the American Poets Project.)

I love the way the imagery in this poem, and its language, are plain and simple, but the way it ends allows it to unfold in one’s mind, silently, long past the end of the verse, into a realm of emotional complexity.

I think about size and scale in painting, a lot. When I go to an exhibit, if the work is notably large, I ask myself, Does this need to be so large? Why is it large? Is being large saying something that being small wouldn’t say? I do the same with work that is particularly small. I want work, on any scale, to look comfortable in its own skin, and to have gravitas without inflation.

Some artists stay within a certain scale most of the time, working large or working small, or something in between; at least the formality of exhibitions leads one to that conclusion. In my own case, I enjoy changing the size of my work, as I enjoy changing any habit (although when I want to work large there are practical considerations that can impede me at times). I’m interested to observe that whatever the size of my work, I have a sense of scale which is like my palette; it evolves but it is part of my identity and not something that I can decide as arbitrarily as the dimensions of a canvas or piece of paper. Hence, a photo of a painting can be very deceiving, and a very small painting can appear to be large, or vice versa. In such a case, it would be mistaken to call a small painting a “sketch.” It’s rare that I make what is called a sketch, in fact. I try to invest the same purpose in my work no matter what I am doing and no matter what its size.

Here is an example of what I mean, a few small paintings which have larger ambitions.  I think any one of these could be read in feet instead of inches, and fill an entire wall, instead of filling only one hand. Would their content and intention be enhanced, or merely altered, by making them larger? Would larger even be a diminishment in some way?

In an upcoming post I hope to feature the work of other artists who have made small work which can contain larger intentions.

Ravenna Taylor, "Rent Time," 2009, gouache on linen, 4.5 x 6.5 inches

Ravenna Taylor, "Sussurus 01," 2008, oil on wood, 7 x 8 inches

Ravenna Taylor, "Private Issues," 2006, oil on linen over wood, 8 x 6 inches

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Ocean of Earth"

With my online exhibition now in its third week (see it here), the crush of completing the work and photographing it, getting the word out, is largely behind me; most of the responses I can expect have come and gone, as life returns to its quotidian ripples. I've thought of all my other artist friends who work toward shows, mount exhibitions, put out the press, and then take it all down and start again. Our productive lives are necessary to us and so unnecessary in the grand scheme; or that is how it seems. I am reminded of the admonishment by Lao Tzu in the Tao te ching: To live long, be of no use.

Today I recieved a response to the work from a special friend who has also been a model and a mentor to me over the years, Judith Serin. Judith is a poet, fiction writer, and consulting editor. Her latest collection of poems is Hiding in the World (Eidolon) (click here for a link to see or purchase the book). Judith has also published an artist's book and a chapbook, both with Deconstructed Artichoke Press. Judith is a professor of literature and writing at California College of Arts in Oakland, CA.

Judith has known my work for decades now and is a close reader. She asked me in particular about the piece below, asking if I'd read "Ocean of Earth" by Guillame Apollinaire, which I had not; I have added the text of this poem below the photo, and I won't attempt to comment upon it, except to say how remarkable it is: a wave carries along with it something that has been to sea, almost to shore, and back again, the way our ideas cycle through us and each other, across time and space - the marvel of eternal return. 

Ravenna Taylor, "Instrumental Dwellings 2," 2012, collage, 13.5 x 14 inches

"Ocean of Earth," Guillame Apollinaire

to G. de Chirico

I built a house in the middle of the ocean
Its windows are rivers which flow out of my eyes
Octopus stir all around its walls
Listen to the triple beat of their hearts and their beaks which
  tap on the window panes
                      Humid house
                      Burning house
                      Rapid season
                      Season which sings
         Airplanes drop eggs
         Watch out for the anchor
Watch out for the ink which they squirt
It's a good thing you came from the sky
The honeysuckle of the sky climbs up
The earthly octopus throb
And then we are closer and closer to being our own gravediggers
Pale octopus of chalky waves O Octopus with pale beaks
Around the house there is this ocean which you know
And which is never still

Translated from the French by Roger Shattuck
This translation was found online via Birds, Beasts, and Seas: Nature Poems from New Directions, by Jeffrey Yang.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Acceptance Happens With The Head Held Up

Today, with a to-do list miles long, I began with my laundry. By the time I'd finished hanging it on the line, I had to run hot water over my fingers to thaw them. 

Even though my fingers were growing numb, I actually did take down a couple pieces and change them with others, because I enjoy the adjacent and occasionally dissonant harmonies of greens. How much would I leave to chance, how much tonal variation in the intervals? On a Saturday, and when time can allow, every action might be as a breath on a flame, and hanging laundry is not so unlike painting or singing.

I came in and warmed my fingers and sat down to read the chapter in The Poet's Freedom headed "Praising." Susan Stewart begins by discussing creation myths and human making, alluding to the Hebrew scripture, and the image of the supreme maker setting out on his task of creating the world, and calling each thing "good." She goes on to say
"The integrity of the thing is not a self-evident aspect of its form but rather a quality discerned at some aesthetic distance; completion is therefore determined, not simply reached as a point of arrival."

I enjoyed that observation, but became sidetracked by an undercurrent of thought I'd been having about human fallibility. A friend had mentioned that she'd seen an imperfection in one of her pieces. We talked a bit about imperfection, how I'd heard that medieval craftsmen had intentionally planned imperfection into their work, so not to appear to have the hubris to try to compete with their God.

But if there were a god to make us, and look on us and call us "good," then that god had to also be far from perfect, or at least to have imperfect judgment about the outcome of the work. Maybe this is how the creation myth came to assert that we humans were made in the image of god -- because of our shared imperfections? I'd never looked at it this way before, I can't remember how it was taught to me by the nuns who were my elementary school teachers.

I didn't get very far on my to-do list today. But when I was carrying out my laundry, I called the bluebirds, and instantly heard their twittering, and saw them swoop over to my house. Clearly these are same bluebirds I had last year and maybe the year before, since they know my call means I've brought them worms. I'm as near as they need me to be to perfection.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What A Drawing Is:

Last week, after visiting the exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery in Chelsea, of Anne Truitt's drawings, I posed the question "What Is A Drawing?" and proceeded to explore it through images of my own "works on paper" (and fabric, and text). You can see that post just below this, with links to the gallery and Truitt's exhibition also (-- under the one that announces my online exhibition).

Today, as part of what I intend as an intermittent ventilation of my blog with the voices of others, I am posting photos of drawings by artist friends. I was delighted, as the photos came in, by the serendipitous alignments I found among them, all wonderful to my eye.

Each artist's drawing is below her or his name, and clicking on the name of the artist will open to a website for each. Click on individual photos for an even better view of each one. Enjoy ~ and my thanks to all the contributors!

 * * * * *

"Not paintings, not pure textile, simple with a lot of the ground plane a drawing."

"2012 #3," hand-dyed wool and egg tempera on linen, 14-1/2 x 12 inches

"I call the works done thusly WITHDRAWINGS... They are not really paintings even though I 'paint' a layer of gouache-tinted gesso on heavy watercolor paper; and they're not exactly drawings because the image isn't 'drawn,' but excised. I draw the image by cutting parallel lines with an exacto knife and revealing it by removing the gouache/gesso-fused uppermost layer of paperpulp between the cuts - leaving thin raw paper lines."


charcoal drawing, collage, 2011

Untitled Dollar Drawing
ink on dollar, 2012

"A drawing is a riddle."

"riddle 01" - a paper 9 square quilt for dark nights.
conte crayon, graphite, on linen paper.

 Lori Ellison

"Well," ink on paper

"I've been drawing with fire, hot iron, hot glue, thread, and blades for years. I draw from the inside out. I get drawn in, I am drawn out. I draw out using any available tool in my surroundings. It is an additive/subtractive gesture and process of revealing/concealing. Stimulated by the universal element of fire, burning is a risky matter, holding both destruction and warmth. Drawing with fire leaves a mark I cannot erase."

Cosmic 2 ©UlaEinstein
a grid of fire drawings on rice paper, each 5" x5"

"Most of my work ends up more painting than not. For me drawing is mostly about line  but I get into a slippery slope once I start using words."

"Diagram A"

"These are blind contour drawings done with my right hand. I mostly paint now, but when I travel, I take book pages or use hotel stationery or whatever paper I can find and draw."

untitled contour drawings #1, 2009, ink on paper, 11 x 8 inches

"The snow drawings are done with my paint water for the day. I open the door to my studio and hurl it out in one or two gestures. Sometimes I think it is my best moment of the day. I often take photos of them. The light is always going down too."

"Snow Drawing 2," 2011

"I consider some of my works predominantly drawing even though I often 'draw' with a narrow brush and thin paint."

“Möbius Spin”, 2012, 14” x 5 ½”
Acrylic, metal pigment on cold pressed watercolor paper

Bascha Mon

"... it seems that it is just up to the artist to declare is this a drawing or not."

"This cameraless Chemigram uses photo paper, resist, and chemicals to degrade the paper's silver where not protected by resist, much like a print maker using a plate and acid bath; in the process, gesture and flow of chemicals and even resist are all part of the image. The photo paper is then processed as usual. I am drawing with the resist but the photo materials and flow of chemicals create images not possible with usual drawing materials. This piece uses an experimental resist I received when Golden Paint Co. invited me to demonstrate  use of their products in making Chemigrams. More information and images are at"


"I did a series of these with Ilan Katin some years back. He did the ink lines, I did the colored pencil."

Patricia Fabricant and Ilan Katin
collaborative drawing, ink and colored pencil

"The subject of Drawing and what it means 'to Draw' seems to be in the collective conscious. It has gained momentum as a primary medium for quite some time. So what does it mean to draw? I would say it's like taking a line out for a dance. In my own work the boundaries are questioned and challenged through technique,materials and approach combining other mediums into the act. It's about 'the line'."

"the In-Between Spaces", 2011
3 dimensional drawing on light box, varied wires, pins, wax pencil, mylar

untitled drawing

ink on paper, 30 x 22"

".... anything with line? and i guess by that a lot of my works on paper come under that wide umbrella."

"History," 2011, oil, charcoal, pencil, 300gm watercolour paper, 37x27cms


"'Acanthus Climbing,' installation, is currently in a group show at the Kohler Arts Center called "The Line Unleashed." I have been working with these materials (pipe cleaners, yarn, fabric, plastic, thread, pins, and fishing weights) for over ten years and think of my installation work as drawing in space.


 Theresa Chong

 "Nini" (a porcupine/ in Native Alaskan Language), 2009
Color pencil and gouache on hand dyed Japanese Paper
32"x 46" 

* * * * *

In case anyone's wondering, the contributors self-selected by responding to the invitation I posted on my FB wall a number of times in the last week, inviting volunteers to respond to my earlier post on the blog, "What Is A Drawing?" No one who sent me a drawing was left out; it just happens they all look great together and cover a range of possibilities! I will be making other posts in the future, to bring my artist friends into the blog with their own voices or images, something I want to do at intervals, so my blog won't be such a mono-blogue!