My current mask series is influenced by the scorched earth policies of our present government and represent the global threat to our natural environment and human population. This impending scenario of massive devastation has produced a heightened response in me. These assemblages express alarm at the 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 protection.
The first masks used recycled cardboard shoe inserts and packaging. I now haunt junk stores for rattan baskets and other cast-offs. When evacuated from our home for nine days during the 2017 wildfires in Somoma County, I spontaneously created on-site art on the first clear day on a walk along the Bay in San Rafael. These pieces became my spontaneous response to the fires—a photo journal that I recorded with my iPhone. There was enormous freedom in embracing ephemeral images when my physical art and possessions could be ash. I wanted to bring this newly tapped spontaneity when I returned home. The studio work is getting more complex in structure and intention in response to the increasing onslaughts from this administration. The masks are a natural continuum of “Stick Stories” (mentioned below) where I show a deep concern for nature whereas, now I highlight its vulnerability. Although, each work can stand alone, shown in conjunction with each other, there is an implied deeper message.
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 what disturbed me 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.
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. In that pre-civil rights era, he also instilled in me that all people are equal. 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 seem to need to hold a tangible object, feel its weight in my hand, then move forward, buoyed by the rhythm of the making. The discarded objects that I collect bring their histories to serve as material: wooden toys, feathers, corks, chopsticks, buttons, beads, hardware, wire, and assorted junk. As a maker of things, I am aware of my carbon footprint and am dedicated to reusing materials.