Friday, September 30, 2016

More About "LIFE FORMS"

Last year around this time, I decided to approach my work with different tools, objectives, and materials. I wanted to make my project a literal demonstration of my process.

The impetus began with a few pieces from my series (Many Rivers) exhibited online in spring of 2015; this was a group of oil paintings on paper which carried on my concerns with the nature of time, eliding with my fixation on passage, maps, water, and rivers.
Generally, my paintings are made with a technique of layering in varyingly transparent glazes or scumbling, with some drawing in paint. In that process, much time passes, as I often have to let the paint dry, and live with a layer before I am ready to obliterate it. Late in the series, I found myself allowing the images to be more thinly painted, with much less veiling and obscuring. This piece, "Natural History," is an example; the visible white is untouched paper -- Arches Huile, formulated for oil paints without priming.

©Ravenna Taylor, "Natural History," 2015, oil on paper, 30 x 22.5 inches

The following painting, "Ravel," is another which I'd expected to carry much further; but when I came to this image, I didn't want to cover it up, I wanted it to stand as a completed work.

©Ravenna Taylor, "Ravel," 2016, oil on paper, 30 x 22.5 inches

This painting, "Untold," is an example of the more heavily painted process in which I had been engaged; complete paintings existed as layers, and were obliterated, to contribute history to a simple image:

©Ravenna Taylor, "Untold," 2015, oil on paper, 22.5 x 30 inches

For my next online show, in spring of 2016, I conceived a group of works that would allow the layering of my process to be a subject in and of itself. I also chose to eliminate color, to use only white, black, and greys, to challenge myself to find a new point of entry into my images. And I decided to rely on materials I had in my studio; I wanted my approach to the work to have a self-sufficiency about it. I wanted to feel as natural in my activities as the birds that build their nests, as the insects that pollinate, as natural as water pooling and flowing. Hence the show came to be called "Life Forms," and the individual suites of works "like an insect," "like a bird," and "surface tensions." 

My process was this: I selected papers, enough to have 6-8 pieces of identical dimensions for each suite. Then I performed a step that would be an image, but also the first layer of an image, which I repeated on each of the sheets; each of my pages had the same drawing or wash executed on it, at the same time -- but each one was individual, this was not an edition, as in printmaking. (I was surprised, considering my usual avoidance of repeating myself, how much satisfaction this gave me, it was pleasurable.)
Next, I selected one to keep at that stage, and performed a different action on the next 7 sheets. 
And again, I selected one to keep, and performed a new act upon the next 6; and so on, until I had 8 pieces (or at least 6), each one a resolved work unto itself, but with increasing complexity in the suite, through layering one image upon another, always intending that each of the eight could have been a valid stopping point. This made my usual process, which is familiar to me over decades of development, finally visible to my audience.

Here follows the complete suite called "like an insect." The first drawings are very minimal, and although this is not the kind of imagery knowing viewers might associate with me, my work always begins like this, and I'm a little envious that some artists feel this is enough; I always feel I have to go further, and to give more. I end up completely covering the early layers, and they aren't even visible in the last piece. But in each of three suites, the first layer and every following layer, although obscured, is a part of the whole revealed at the end. I see this very much as a way of demonstrating the self-containment of a moment, the passage of time, the flux of seasons, and the forces of nature.

©Ravenna Taylor, "like an insect, 01" 2016, graphite on paper, 15 x 11 inches

©Ravenna Taylor, "like an insect, 02," 2016, graphite, chalk, 15 x 11 inches

©Ravenna Taylor, "like an insect, 03" 2016, graphite, chalk, collage, 15 x 11 inches

©Ravenna Taylor, "like an insect, 04" 2016, graphite, chalk, gouache, 15 x 11 inches

©Ravenna Taylor, "like an insect, 05" 2016, graphite, chalk, gouache, india ink, 15 x 11 inches

©Ravenna Taylor, "like an insect, 06" 2016, graphite, chalk, gouache, india ink, acrylic paint, collage, 15 x 11 inches

Here is a shot taken of my studio wall, with all three suites of this series, Life Forms, together -- top to bottom, "surface tensions," "like an insect," and "like a bird":

©Ravenna Taylor, studio view: the series "Life Forms" 2016

As always, if you have the website open in your browser, a click on one photo opens a "slide show" of all the photos in this post, with a better view.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


In the dark times
will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
about the dark times.
--Bertolt Brecht
Source/Notes: Motto to the 'Svendborg Poems' [Motto der 'Svendborger Gedichte'] (1938), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 320 - Poems, 1913-1956 (1976)

I return today to this project, to this threshold, to this passage, to this vein, to this lagoon,
to begin, again, to offer only this, to end the silence of a year.
Maybe I am Traveling (from The Book of Hours)
Maybe I am traveling, like some secret ore,
through the hard veins of a mountain, alone.
and no distance: nothing but a single core
that draws in all things and changes them to stone.
I don't have much wisdom about sorrow.
The vast darkness has made me smaller, it's true.
Are you the one solid enough? Come break through,
so that all of your touch might happen to me,
and all of my tears might happen to you.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated from German by Paul Weinfield, © 2014
See more translations from Paul Weinfield at his website, HERE