A river does not yet stop for you

A river does not yet stop for you

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These compelling words are from Craig Childs, written for the Patagonia summer clothing catalog. I was immersed in his conservation conversation, chronicling dam building (or not) in Patagonia. Which led me to the ILCP (International League of Conservation Photographers), an ethically, environmentally active group of artists working closely with committed scientists, politicians, cultural leaders, and policy makers, “To replace environmental indifference with a new culture of stewardship and passion for our beautiful planet.” Amen and hallelujah.

On a very small scale (and not yet working with policy makers or politicians) I’m growing in this direction of environmental activism. The studio process for creating a sculpture grappling with the beauty and the ugliness interwoven in our landscape is akin to spelunking without a headlamp. I grapple with not being blindsided by the overwhelming beauty of our remote or aerial landscapes while simultaneously being repelled by on-the-ground, up-close-and-personal environmental degradation. How does one sculpt beautiful-ugly? And why is this dichotomy important? Fortunately, I’m not the first artist to grapple with these contrasts!

Which brings me to my point (ah, at last! you say?)…there are pioneers in this approach. I was fortunate to take the recent workshop “Considering Beauty: Crafting a Philosophical Studio Practice” with Michelle Ross, a Professor in the Drawing and Painting department at Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC), AND, recent recipient of a 2011 Contemporary Northwest Art Award from the Portland Art Museum. Ms. Ross was the first Artist-in-Residence for the Susan Cooley-Gilliom Artist Residency Teaching program in Placer County (developed through the Endowment for the Arts with Placer Community Foundation). Together, worskhop artists and I considered the nature of beauty in our work and lives.

Answer me this: “Do you have a conscious approach to beauty in making your work? How do you recognize it? When do our standards of beauty in art differ from our standards in everyday life? If perfection, coherence and unity are preconditions of the beautiful, can art work that doesn’t embody these attributes be considered beautiful? Can work that meets these criteria still fail to move us? When and how are issues that we initially perceive as painful, ugly or undesirable assimilated into our consciousness as beautiful? Is our capacity for perceiving beauty inherent or culturally conditioned?” The workshop included two days of intensive experimentation with materials and a series of provocative studio prompts. LUCKY ME.

I drew, cut, pasted, bent, folded, ripped and burned (yes, burned with a Bic lighter) my way into a new vocabulary of wabi-sabi and beautiful-ugly. The freedom to stretch my metaphorical wings into new territory with the life-raft of Michelle’s experience underneath was a true gift. You’ll see changes in my work and perspective this next year as the ideas learned in the workshop continue to develop in my consciousness and translate in my work. I hope you’ll walk-the-walk with me. Follow my image development. Prod me with questions. And, in the words of Craig Childs, “You still feel in your bones a more expansive world, where you do not possess the air or water, and a river does not yet stop for you.”

Watch my video, turning “ugly” steel into an endless, unstoppable river…Gone raw to “Gone Rogue” in-studio development pics.

  1. Veronica says:

    Thanks Deanna – as always your work is an inspiration. Its fun to watch you weave thru your work in such a thoughtful way.

  2. Isobel Davis says:

    Deanna – I am grateful to stumble upon this well written expression of your influences and thought process put into this piece. Olivia was just in Pategonia this spring and the environmental politics of dam building are indeed a hot topic. I’m not sure the environmental viewpoint is winning out. If you have never seen photos of the Columbia river before the dam system was built, it was an amazing animal of unleashed attitude and power. Rapids, falls, all kinds of elements. I could talk with you about this forever. All the best!

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