This series is my response to the sweeping anti-immigration policies enacted by the current administration. I can’t paint these small (8×8 inches) watercolors quickly enough to cover the cruel and illegal treatment of desperate migrant families and children crossing our borders to seek asylum. And now, even legal immigrants who live here are being targeted. “Cages” showcases my graphic story, “Welcome to America, Jésus and María”. I place the small dolls and props in on-site vignettes and photograph them to relate this painful truth happening on our soil.
My masks express alarm at the current administration’s reckless attack on protections that include land, water, air, and all living things. My fanciful visages invite the observer in to make them pause and appreciate both the grandeur and fragility of nature and the need for our vigilant protection.
The first masks used recycled cardboard shoe inserts and packaging. I continue to haunt junk stores for rattan baskets and other cast-offs that bring their histories. The reuse of the toys, feathers, corks, chopsticks, buttons, beads, and housewares has the bonus of reducing my carbon footprint. When evacuated from our home for nine days during the 2017 wildfires in Somoma County, I impulsively created on-site art on the first clear day on a walk along the Bay in San Rafael. These pieces were my first response to the fires—a photo journal that I recorded with my iPhone. There was enormous freedom in embracing ephemeral images while my physical art and possessions could be ash. My studio work taps into this spontaneity while becoming more complex in structure and intention. The masks are a natural continuum of “Stick Stories” where I show a concern for nature whereas, now I broadcast its vulnerability.
The ladders, sticks, and wall assemblages are created mainly from the detritus that I search for in my natural environment. I commonly use driftwood to visually and literally weave my constructions together. The bleached branches and fist-shaped knots are so intrinsically beautiful, it seems disrespectful to add marks or color, but I have to do it. Although each of the works is individual, they share a common language of birds, fish, ocean, land, and sky.
This body of work divides into four categories. “Stick Stories” are poles that can each stand alone or in a group. “Ladders” are the three-dimensional echoes of the flat ladder images that often popped up in my paintings. Each of the “Panel Series” is built on a wood background rescued from the original veneer walls of our house remodel. “Windows” metaphorically frame the surrounding landscape.
I reside in northern California, near the Pacific Ocean where I gather driftwood and ideas for my artwork. My father, a hydraulics engineer, taught me when I was young to regard our planet as a sacred place that we must protect. He took me on walks where he pointed out the buttercups, the honeysuckle, the streams running downhill. The rarest find was a dinosaur bone on the yet unspoiled shoreline just footsteps from our home in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. After a long string of moves before I was eight years old, we settled in my birthplace of Chicago. The beaches of Lake Michigan were an integral part of my life.
I seek a plethora of influences. Nature informs me. A tiny bird nest from a miniature pine forest. The shed skin of a Kingsnake. Grain-size luminescent shells from a Kauai beach. Art museums are home to me. Tribal and native arts impress me with their clarity of purpose. I am drawn to locations that transport me to a primordial memory and to marvel at our earliest artists and architects: the Altamira Caves, the Mayan pyramids, Stonehenge.
Before I started making assemblages, I did ceramic sculpture and detailed narrative watercolor paintings. The stories were often based upon disturbing stories in the news: poaching of elephants, Mount Saint Helens volcano eruption, the martyrdom of South African anti-Apartheid activist Stephen Banku Biko. I continue to select the medium that best expresses my ideas. I can’t imagine making art without the bright, saturated color that excites me. I make art to give credence to my interior chatter and to communicate with others.