Friday, November 11, 2016

"Certain Thoughts Might Be Possible Only in Certain Places".

Iceland Works 1 10x10" oil stick/sand/acrylic on paper ©2016 Janice Mason Steeves

Iceland Works 2 10x10"  oil stick/sand/acrylic on paper © 2016 Janice Mason Steeves
I have written before about Robert Macfarlane, the author of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. In walking some of the ancient pathways in England and Scotland, he came to consider the idea "that cognition is site-specific, or motion-sensitive; that we think differently in different landscapes." And therefore more radically, that "certain thoughts might be possible only in certain places...." When I travel to artist residencies in different countries, I think of that quotation. And in my workshops that are located in beautiful, natural surroundings, I give that quotation to the students to consider as they sit outdoors for a short meditation each day.

At the Baer Art Centre residency I attended recently in Iceland, I did a series of small paintings influenced by the land: the vastness of the space, the shapes of the surrounding mountains, the imposing headland or cape, the islands in the fiord, the basalt columns, the water. In fact I included some of the black volcanic sand from a nearby beach in the work. My paintings changed the longer I was there, as I connected more deeply with the landscape. I intended to continue and expand on this series once I returned home. But I wasn't able to.

Iceworks 3  12x12"  oil stick/sand/acrylic © 2016 Janice Mason Steeves
Iceworks 4  12x12" oil stick/sand/acrylic © 2016 Janice Mason Steeves

That shouldn't have surprised me.  I did an artist residency at Ricklundgarden in Northern Sweden in the spring of 2015. Again, the work changed quite dramatically over the course of the month I was there as I became strongly connected to the land. I did a series of small paintings that were very different for me. Very different than my normal studio practice. I loved them and decided I would continue to work on the series at home. 

Sweden Works 1  14x11" oil/cold wax on paper © 2015 Janice Mason Steeves

Sweden Works 2  12x12" oil/cold wax on paper© 2015 Janice Mason Steeves

But once home, I wasn't able to continue the series. The energy was gone from it. I tried and tried to keep it going but none of the work had the same vitality as the work done on location. So I gave up and threw all the attempts in the garbage bin.

This site-specificity doesn't happen for everyone. Agnes Martin in her film, With My Back to the World, says (and I paraphrase), that it doesn't matter where she is, that her work is not about the world, at least, it's not about this world.

But it happens for me. And I wonder as I consider Robert Macfarlane's quotation, if, for me at least, "certain [paintings] might be possible only in certain places?"

Sweden Works 3  12x12" oil/cold wax on paper  © 2015 Janice Mason Steeves