I define my work as narrative expressionist. The representation of the figures and objects automatically signify the presence of a narrative, and the use of strong colour and gestural brush marks and textures are expressionistic, indicating that my inner reality and physical experience are substantial and important elements in the work.
I have arrived at this body of work by placing identity issues within cultural and personal memory, facilitated by empirical evidence from the family album and cultural products and media studies.
I chose pictures for the screen printing elements that portrayed ordinary moments - family experiences that were evidence of relationships and tenderness. The images loaded with the greatest significance seemed to best fuel the physical experience I wanted to explore through my painting. The elements of figurative painting have been chosen to imply the historical and cultural context of my childhood, a highly mobile, military, American, Pop Art, 1960s dichotomous experience, that was poised on the shift from established and fixed modernist values to the more fluid, eclectic and pluralistic post-modern ideas and influences.
My work is not directly nostalgic yet cannot fully deny it either. Susan Stewart, in On Longing, states that "the photograph as souvenir is a logical extension of the pressed flower, the preservation of an instant in time through a reduction of physical dimensions and a corresponding increase in significance supplied by means of narrative" (1984, p.138), discussed in chapter one. I am attracted to those moments that are so wrapped in significance in the miniaturised world of the photograph album that we forget about the question of reality, we are just caught up in the experience of the memory process itself. The metaphor of the pressed flower suits the manner in which I press the screen printed images into the layers of painted images.
The use of the photographs chosen for the screen printing was necessary to carry the position of the document (Fig. 32). The repetition of the same images in various positions throughout the panels is used to convey the sampling and re-sampling that occurs when I look at the images from the past in an album, like flicking pages backward and forward, opening to random pages at other times, out of linear sequence. Some aspects of the images are concealed, blurred, veiled, distorted or damaged, and in other areas are perfect and crystal clear. This signifies the variable nature of the remembering process and the physical experience that it invokes.
Childhood memory can easily slip into amnesia, but with the aid of the recorded image it can be brought back into focus. The technical processes in my painting involve burying the screen prints and figurative areas of painting, and pushing them back into the layers to represent the amnesia. There are many layers of these images built up through the processes, and most remain hidden unless I choose to refocus them by sanding back through the paint, or by re-clarifying them with figurative painting. I determine the construction of the image, what to reveal and emphasise, what to conceal and diminish as less important, as I determine the construction of my identity, sometimes looking back, sometimes not.
This work presents a refinement of the issues and processes of using photomechanical screen printing with layers of abstract and figurative painting. The content continues to examine the present physical experience of a past autobiographical narrative. A theoretical understanding of the psychology of memory, positivist versus post-structuralist, is the scaffolding upon which I have explored other polarities: of documentation versus truth, absence versus presence, excavation versus burying. The obscured and disruptive treatment of the photos (compare the painting in Figure 34 with the original photo in Figure 35) refers to this dialogue and parallels the archaeological processes of remembering through artefacts as well as subjective memory. The way I have buried the images in paint in some areas, and sanded back to reveal them, says that I construct, control and determine the nature of the memory. In this way I communicate both the positivist and post-structuralist positions. This is a recursive process, as the snippets of personal history represented continue their influence on me each time they are experienced, and prescribe memories to me. They automatically assert a construct of who I am, yet I in turn reinterpret them to construct a new sense of my identity each time I encounter them. When I uncover historical data I react to it in a physical way, and this interrupts the data. This suits the liminal space of memory where there is no anchor; everything is shifting with our current concept of self.
There is a tension, or ambiguity in being artist, rememberer and object of these paintings. I am implicated in the work as soon as my identity imprints on the work in front of me. I traverse the field of these three positions in my studio processes, which I call intuitive synesthesia.
Synesthesia is a condition where sensory perceptions cross over within the neurobiology of the human brain. I believe that artists create their works by constructing synesthetic metaphors with their medium. The colour, texture, rhythm and depth in my works are metaphors for the present physical experience of past autobiographical moments. The techniques of subtle glazing and excavation of the surfaces translate directly to my experience of my memories. A memory is not just visual, yet the painted surface asserts its dominance. A synesthetic approach to painting makes it possible to express the many sensory perceptions that make the memory whole.
A question my work asks is, "Who are we with or without access to historical documents, cultural products or personal photos?" I believe that they influence who we think we are. They are prescriptive yet candid. To some people identity is more grounded in the concrete moment or the "Now", and they have no desire to recover past historical data or cultural history. I am ambivalent, in that the present is what matters most to me, but am irresistibly drawn to understanding my origins in order to experience the "Aha!" that leads me to a better understanding of my identity. I am not resisting; I am taking the position of the one who brings things forward, but with the knowledge that being occupied with the past has the potential to deny the "Now".
There are gender issues reflected in the fragments of the domestic that make up the world in my paintings. My perspective is definitely implicated as feminine in that the viewpoint is that of a young girl experiencing, and an adult woman remembering. For instance, in Consuming Culture (Figure 35) I have used patterns from the American dollar bill and Betty Crocker cookbook covers. This combination speaks of the men that designed household products for the consumption of women in the 1950s and '60s. By examining the paradigms that were dominant in the culture of my early childhood, I have clarified another layer in my narrative and my identity.
Another aspect of my cultural framework was the United States military, as my father was in the Army. Moving frequently enforced a miniaturisation of my belongings. I have a fascination with small things and how memory can be compressed; how one small toy can carry years of memory, not unlike the family album. I am particularly fascinated by my choice to be a Girl Scout (Figure 36), a badge collector, not unlike like my Dad who was off fighting in Vietnam, gathering medals for heroic deeds. In my paintings, there are many small personal items that are artefacts of these experiences. These are signifiers of some of the ideas either my parents or I bought as a consumer of culture in the 1960s and '70s. There is nothing sinister or overly political in my statement; it is the perspective of a young person living in innocence of those issues, and an adult who is now conscious of them via reflection. My position is that of the micro-narrative, the person within them, a child's-eye vision, and I don't moralise at all. I was just there, not judging.
I can't help wondering: If I had grown up on a farm in Kansas, what would I be like? What if I had never moved from Boston where my ancestral family roots are? What would my identity consist of? What culture would I have bought if that was my experience? As we grow, we consume. It's unavoidable. Isolating these influences has been a tremendous learning experience for me, and provided me with enormous motivation for creating artworks.
I believe that all artists' works are essentially documentary, of either an internal or external reality, either real or imagined. Artists' dive within or explore outside the personal psyche, exploring memory, identity and narrative, either our own or those related to us in some psychological way. Most often there is a point where these meet in artistic studio practice. By objectifying these experiences in art objects for the consumption of others, it is like the endless swinging of a pendulum, where there is again the possibility to subjectify the viewer's responses. By taking these new feelings, thoughts and visions back into my studio to begin the process again, I can continue to make statements as a visual artist, and as participant in my culture, as my art objects join the continuum of cultural products in my time.
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