These works are my response to Edgar Degas’ fans, which he made at various times between 1868 and ‘85.
Degas, like Monet, Van Gogh, and other European contemporaries, was fascinated by Japanese wood-block prints. At the time, commercial and political relationships between “The West” and “The Far East” were expanding, and cultural influences were being felt on both sides. Degas used his fans (as he did many of his drawings and paintings) to explore the Japanese attitude to materials and space, an attitude that allowed large open areas to function as positive elements in an image. He used coloured and metallic inks and watercolour on silk. His imagery, as in many of his other works, was of the theatre, the ballet and the café concert.
I wondered what a 21st-century, northeastern Ontario version would look like, and these fans are one conclusion. They are the same scale as Degas’ fans, but the material is Japanese paper. The theatre stage is the space behind my house in Temagami.
Usually, a wild animal has disappeared before one even notices it. A siting may be only a glimpse out of the corner of one’s eye. Or just a movement in the bush, a momentary recognition of a shape that just as quickly dissolves. This sensation, of almost not seeing something, is what I tried to convey in “Fan: Lynx”.
A snowshoe hare is almost invisible in winter. All that one sees are its eyes, nose and the inside and tips of its ears. Even then, it may only reveal itself if it moves. “Fan: Marten and snowshoe hare” describes an event I witnessed a couple of winters ago. I was surprised to see tiny black shapes moving up and down in clouds of snow. It took a couple of seconds to realize that it was a hare, bounding out of the bush into the open, signalling that someone else was in hot pursuit. Even with its big, furry feet it was having a hard time in the deep snow. The hare was actually breaking trail for its pursuer: A marten emerged not far behind, leaping, its warm brown colour appearing red in the flat light and monochrome landscape. They crossed the clearing and disappeared.
“Fan: Crow” is simply an observation that depictions of birds in pine branches, especially in Japanese and Chinese art, tend to be romantic and sweet, while our northern reality is usually neither.
Experience is round. We can turn ourselves/bodies to see all of what surrounds us. We can tilt our heads back and see the round dome of the sky above us. Our sense of place is hearing sounds near and far, seeing objects and other animals close to us and far away, feeling air move against our skins. It is smelling the earth or pavement that we feel under our feet.
Experience is round, a swirling mixture of the past into the present and back again, all of our perceptions of any given thing at any point in our lives mixed in with every other perception of that thing, taking on more richness and complexity the older we get. Experience transforms us from the person we are to one of the ones we were, perhaps to someone we will be, all within the cycle of a lifetime.
Human beings’ secondary experience of the world is through the window of culture. Our window is straight-sided and flat, or sequential and linear. Straight-sided things divide us from the round world, protect us from weather and extremes of temperature, give us reliable, uniform surfaces to lean against and walk on. The conventions of picture-making are flat, and have corners. The ways in which we transmit images to each other, in photographic, cinematic and electronic media, all present the world in a straight-sided frame. Our primary experience is edited and transformed by this frame.
Secondary/edited versions of reality allow for interpretation, the imposition of meanings that can be conveyed to other people, who recognize the symbols of this representation. This is what art is, whether static or time-based - a set of conventions for representing the world, whether literally or as parallel, “abstract” experience.
Experience is round, a swirling mixture of the past into the present and back again, all of our perceptions of any given thing at any point in the life of our society mixed in with every other perception of that thing, taking on more richness and complexity the older we get. Experience transforms us from the society we are to one of the ones we were, perhaps to one we will be, all within the cycle of a culture’s lifetime.
So, art comments upon and re-interprets art.
In the “Modern” period, western cultures believed that they had finally emerged from the dark ages of human evolution into a new, bright world, made possible by scientific knowledge, feeding the creation of new technologies. The “Postmodern Age” is the shock of cold water, the recognition that the new, bright world of our own creation is still completely dependent on that other, round world of primary experience, and that the new world threatens the very existence of both the old world and ourselves.
We are part of the old, round world, even inside our straight-sided shelters, even though we have come to understand the world almost exclusively through secondary, straight-sided interpretations, made by other humans like ourselves. All experience is round. History repeats itself. The present time and the past exist simultaneously.