Walking along in the woods towards the East part of the five acres, I observe that all the vegetable beings grow thicker and thicker. The land is covered in brush, thickets, briar patches and large vines. It tears down the old crooked trees.
Eventually the area turns into marshland. On occasion, now that spring is returning, one can hear the sound of cranes honking in the rushes. The marshland extends into a grove of rotten trees and craggy vines. One of the large trees, its decayed half dropped onto the ground of the marsh, has new growth atop.
Then there is the apple tree, no longer yielding fruit and being brought down slowly by the vines, which harbors around it all sorts of old glass bottles and detritus from long ago.
This particular place has a more intense presence than the surrounding area. It possesses a magnetism. Many people are familiar with this feeling when they approach a particular place in the deep woods. It has a quality that draws you in. My scots-irish ancestors would’ve probably associated it with faeries or elementals. Aside from the fancy of the imagination, it seems that the land expresses its own feelings. It convinces me of its presence. There is a ‘something about it.’ Dare I say uncanny?
In order to traverse the land I duck under branches. I continually watch out for the briars. One or two briars will inevitably find their way to your pants or hit you on the hand or the side of the face. Sometimes they are an inch thick or more. Maneuvering around in the woods I sometimes find myself surrounded by the patches of briars, having stepped into an impasse to realize I am inside a Graham Sutherland painting.
A faint whisper comes from my lips, what is it that would drive one to traverse the land in this way?
It is a means of traveling through the woods where the traveler must assimilate to the surroundings and not the other way around. That is what I want to emphasize.
Nature is like a thicket. Usually we stay out of thickets, and this is probably because its, well, too thick. This image of nature as thick is fascinating to me. A thicket as a dense, interwoven assemblage of vegetable materialization conveys the sense of what is nature to me. It is far too complex for we monkeys to handle. It is multi-dimensional, multi-layered, multi-passaged. It is often too “porous” for us to comprehend.
That is why we got around to trying to reduce everything.
That is another notion that came to me in the deep woods. I suppose because I am an artist I often think through that lens. You see, we painters wanted to see what painting could be like as a mind comprehending itself – that was essentially the meta-program of painting’s modernity. We bracketed-out the more ubiquitous miracle of nature, pressed it out through reduction that confined and blunted it. Peter Halley is right: it is imprisoning, giving visual structure for a system to ignore certain realities. It has its origins in an assembly line mentality. So when I comprehend such things I get a sense of need to create a different kind of painting. What I am interested in is creating a visual form that does not reduce, but also does not merely illustrate.
The ways and means in which the artist chooses their materials and methods convey an attitude about body, person and environment. That is what Harold Rosenberg has aught me – that the way you use the materials matters. The work of art is like a talisman conveying a psychology and a making-of-a-world. How you end up morphing your art object into existence is an statement of attitude towards nature.
Upon considering this idea, I think that the reductive approach is indicative of an entire paradigm: it conveys a particular reality built upon lines of demarcation – reduction wants clear lines like a good Newmann painting. It is viewed classically, wanting to celebrate the artist’s mind hovering over their creation like an abstract and transcendent agent. Given that the approach to the work and the procedures of how the work goes about is a choice that is measured up against nature, the reductive appears in many ways violent.
To return to my venture into the woods, such reduction cannot place itself into the woods so as to duck under the branches; that is to say, it does not know how to respond to nature, only to command it.
So as an artist I must try to let go.
I must weave in and out of the briars, exploring the dynamics of the terrain.