Landscape Statement for the Colorado Plateau series

I began a new series of paintings in November 2012 inspired by the vast and varied rock formations of the Colorado Plateau; by the fractured rhythmic layers of ancient sediment, by the up-thrust of ancient tectonic activity, and then by the relentless and rigorous effects of subsequent erosions in the millennia upon the exposed surface by the whipping desert wind, by the slicing, melting, sluicing force of water, by the chipping away of snow and ice, all exaggerated by the acute temperature fluctuations so characteristic of the high desert.

My first connection to land was in the dreams of my mother.  Her passionate attachment to a piece of land on top of a tall hill overlooking a lake in Hyderabad – and to her misfortune, the governor’s residence – and then her subsequent loss and incessant quest of a replacement in her heart, tied me inextricably to the acuteness of her desire, created a value far beyond the material – a value that entered not only my veins, but at the level of emotion where human craving most efficiently sharpens its blade.

I grew up in the city built upon a volcanic plateau more ancient than the Colorado Plateau upon which I now live my adult life.  Compared to the dramatic scale and the rampant color of the Colorado plateau, the Deccan Plateau is a grey nub.  Yet I grew to know the touch of the rough hide of the sun drenched, precariously-balanced boulders under the tender skin of my toes and fingers, under my scraped up calves, like a mahout knows the hide of his pet elephant.  It’s what the boulders look like, like widely scattered herds of elephants rumbling along the spent plane.  I spent hours feeling the wind in my face while sitting on the heights of one of the several volcanic hills scattered about the city.

I am but one of thousands who pay homage to the Colorado Plateau, but the first time I drove across it, from Denver to Portland, I was hooked.  As soon as I returned from that trip in the early eighties, just from memory, I regurgitated three or four crude landscapes in the space of an afternoon.  The only way I could have it, could re-experience what I had just seen, was to express it.  A trip to Taos with a group of artists and students was similarly revelatory.  In a foreign land, among the hills, the arroyos, the crumbling fractured rock, the semi-arid desert so similar to that of my childhood, I felt the sharp tug of my DNA, and finally felt at home.

Over the years I have painted and drawn the mountains, the canyons of the Colorado Plateau the cottonwoods, the vast emptiness of the sky, the sweeps of pinon and sage and the cottonwoods along streambeds.  Now in the last two months of 2012, upon the encouragement of an artist friend, I decided to set aside some time to see where the work would lead me.

Using some sketches I had done in years past, the photographs I had taken, I return to the same few sites that moved me in the past for the same reasons they interested me to begin with – the dramatic and shifting movements of the earth, the vastness, the sheer and massive scale of the rock, the presence that wants to eclipse the sky.

There is an enormous wrenching of the earth’s mantle in the direct path of I-70 in Utah, a twisted and torn up site that must surely have been ground zero at some major tectonic event millions of years before I ever laid eyes on it.  The massive rocks stand still and crumbling, eroding as I watched, I remember, but the power of that event is immensely palpable today even reduced to a three by five reproduction.

Then there is the bottom edge of the Escalante National Park, also in Utah, and the area between Bryce and Zion.  I had spent some unexpected time at the Thunderbird Foundation, Maynard Dixon’s old property and done several plein air works and sketches there.  The tops want to slide down the pale naked surface of the buttes, like a tumbling river making the surface of the rock even smoother than it is.

The series got started, however, with the time I’d spent in the area in and around Ghost Ranch in Abiquiui.  During the ‘archeological dig’ among my landscape artifacts, I found a small, skeletal sketch of some rock and hill formations I had done in many versions onsite that seemed naked of the early work. It was an innocuous starting point for re-imagining the place, and I could not have imagined the energy it would release so far in time from the violent energies that initially brought it from the earth.

I am just at the beginning, but the hunger has returned.  The plateau has always called.  I just stopped to listen.


Statement for the “Ellipse” series:

Life cycles have a way of re-occurring.  Only, they never return in perfect circles, but in wobbly, misshapen ellipses, unexpectedly, unpredictably, and yet with a certain rhythm.  The shape has always been present in my work from the earliest tentative explorations into abstract shapes.

Monotypes are everything that is direct, spontaneous, unexamined, unbidden, and confident, gushing on their own, in that moment when creating is merely a channel for something beyond the conscious.   The collage is everything the monotype is not: thoughtful, considered and meandering; it is what seeps quietly beneath the surface, conscious and aware.  But above all, it is the thinnest of skins – fragile, absorbent and tenacious.

For this new body of work that I have come to think of the ellipse series, I worked back into the monotypes.  In a careful, deliberative process, I laid down thin skins of tissue, of paper, of cloth, making marks, erasing, red-defining, re-aligning, sometimes with charcoal and paint, sometimes thick, sometimes, thin; transparent and opaque.  The more I concealed, the more what was revealed became mysterious and charged.  To heighten the contemplative quality of these collages, I superimposed a neutral palette on the vivid inks and active surface of the underlying monotype.

Statement 2009:

(last modified in 2013 but pertaining to the origin of imagery in my earliest work, the Mantra series)

Despite my training in representational images, I had to leave the familiar territory of the figure, the still life, the landscape when I began to search for visual equivalents of certain intriguingly abstract ideas of Indian philosophy in the concept of “Brahman”, which is the idea of a sort of universal matrix that defies both description and limitation.
the understanding of which can be only arrived at by removing everything else.  An idea of an entity from which everything emanates, to which everything returns, but which is not limited to any of the things that come from it.

Just as the layers must be peeled away to reveal the truth, I too had to shed what I had learnt and start from the beginning.  I built images from their simplest forms and came up with an ellipse that contained weight and yet floated, on a background that was of ambiguous depth seemed to have a watery presence, in shapes that were either vertical (to suggest a sense of rising), but more often squarish forms that did not push or pull in any one direction so that the container did not impose itself and its boundaries on the contained.

I turned my attention to the ancient sound of chants, and began to incorporate automatic writing, specifically in the Devnagari script (Sanskrit), the language of the chants.  Other visual elements came into the work – I added torn paper, textiles and filled out the layered forms which in turn became more icon-like.

Today my primary interest lies in the formal language of visual expression as it is carried forward by the thrust or incisiveness of line, by the thickness of texture, by the resonance of color, by the acrobatic precision of balance, by the still ambiguities of negative space, the contrasts between transparency and opacity, and by the juiciness or spareness of ink, much like a symphonic piece of music exists in its own linguistic context without the need of words.

It’s within the layered and nuanced relationships between elements such as these, that I look each time for the elusive presence of beauty.

Utah # 2
Ellipse # 11
Composition with Mustard Yellow