A series of series

 

Spiritus Naturalis series: Surf Sylph

 

I love working in series. Each is an opportunity to evolve with a creative direction over an indeterminate span of time. And for commissioned works, I can reapproach earlier explorative directions with a fresh eye and the bounty of what I've gleaned in the meantime.

The current series is Spiritus Naturalis, in which I'm composing Madrona branches, copper, and pigmented flax fiber to create gestural nature spirits. I'm especially drawn to working with forms that are in fact still, but seem in motion in the viewer's perception.

Lumenpear series: Aspearsa



 

 

 

Most recently, I worked with a related pair of light-emitting series. With Lumenpear, I combined the evocative pear form with other far-flung elements. Aspearsa, for example, embodies both a pear and a garden snail, with the garden abstractly reflected in its surface.

 

Skyhull series: Sunflitten


  

 

With the same combination of copper armature and flax fiber surface, Skyhull envisions boat forms with disparate elements. Sunflitten imagines a hybrid of boat hull and sunflower.

 

Skyhouse series: Gatekeeper

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a few years I lived in Bali, where I couldn't make my beloved flax paper. There, I reimagined bird cages with rice paper, pigments and copper, converting them from bird prisons to joyous architectural creatures with the Skyhouse series.


Speaking of years passing quickly...


Cloud Usher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'Tis the season...for the annual   

Orcas Artists' Studio Tour! 

August 12-14, 11-5pm

You can find an online guide here.


 


A landscape screen

 


 

 

My artwork usually has me inviting nature indoors, into human spaces. I’ve been wanting to switch it up, bring its architecture, its lines and forms out into more natural landscapes.

I’ve worked with location-specific installations of this sort, but I wanted to play with the copper frame and cedar slats as an independent object: a freestanding, movable thing. A thick slab of live-edge fir and solid footings let it be mobile, but with a sense of gravitas.

For me, the stoutness of the pipe frame has a masculine feel, especially with the fittings, yet its flow engages the feminine. The relative rigidity of the copper holds the suppleness of the slender cedar woven in. 

The flowing copper curves are very much related to the paper-skinned copper tendrils of the Spiritus Naturalis pieces. Here, though, their metallic nature is skinned with the patina of exposure to the elements.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The slats are shaped like tapered leaves, splaying out in opposites at the top. Brass and copper cloth leaf forms seem to spill out the front.

 

About 8 feet long x 87 inches high.



Spiritus Naturalis series: Winter Sky Leafelope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Sky Leafelope is the second piece in the Spiritus Naturalis series with a floating, leaf-shaped landscape.  

Here the plane evokes sky with a pair of leaves comprised of numerous leaf-shaped clouds. Besides its antelope-like stance, there's an antler piercing the clouds, fading to lighter, bonier tones. 

 

 

 

The legs are of earthier, richer colors, with watery tendrils coursing through, cycling the sense of movement back up into the tree-like antler.

Spiritus Naturalis series: Cloud Garden Leafipede



 

 

 

 

 

This is Cloud Garden Leafipede, the first of the Spiritus Naturalis series to embody a landscape floating in midair.


 

All of the earlier pieces in this series have tendrils intertwining with madrona branch forms, but in this one the tendrils are separate, ending in leaf-like clouds that cast shadows on the mobile garden/leaf plane.

 

 

 

 

 

Cloud Garden Leafipede is 42"L x 26"H




Gathering



A backlit 4' x 4' sheet of paper drying


I'd begun mentioning to folks that I was looking for some Madrona branches when a buddy said he'd seen some in a place accessible only by boat. He also had a boat with a small motor and a dinghy to tow behind. We ventured out to the nearest landing, where the motor promptly failed. Fortunately, he'd brought oars, and I got to feel with every row on the 3-mile round trip how much I wanted this exquisite stockpile.

 

The new work also needed a fresh supply of paper: almost tissue-paper thin, with lots of chromatic variation within each piece. I've been gathering visual impressions of nature since I was a kid.

 

 

Materials, tools, and a happy place to work...my idea of heaven on earth.


In the round


 

 

 

I've been called on to design and create lovely spaces for others over the years. It's been a joy to devote these skills and creative drive to making one for myself. 

I spend a lot of time in the studio, so a space that celebrates light and curvature suits my well-being where I'm busiest, and in many ways, at my best.

 

 

Between the building of the base, erecting the yurt kit, making the windows and frames, insulating, etc, it was an intensive effort. Naturally, I was itching to get back to working in the studio, rather than on it, but such a wonderful investment in the process!

 

Amid the whirl of the world, a fine nest for this monkish soul to make and Be.

 





Summer 2020: Sabbatical drifts into Self-Isolation


This winter I made some time and space to focus on my studio practice. After two years of out-in-the-world, architectural work, it was time for the sort of making that’s less practical: more playful, contemplative and soulful.


A load of Madrona branches for the new work.

Along with some much-needed deep rest, I delved into developing some new approaches to the light-oriented sculpting and papermaking, wading into a new series, and getting my creative encampment in good order. I noted on the calendar that late April seemed a fine time to reengage commissioned work and open the making back out to the realm around. 

The past couple of years I hadn't shared my studio and work on the Orcas Artists Studio Tour, and I was really looking forward to ramping into that and having the realm around come 'round to my creative sanctum.

Instead, the sabbatical has become self-isolation for an indeterminate time. Someone nominated the buying of a “2020 Year Planner” for the worst investment this year, an idea that manages to be all the more amusing for its being exponentially true.




 

 

My quiet lifestyle has changed very little with the onset of the pandemic. Yet the quality of the solitude has shifted: it’s less familiar, more populous now that so many others are living more quietly as well. The vast company in quietude amid social upheaval sweeps through and recedes like tides. I count among the great many things for which I am deeply grateful, a practiced sense of what is mine and what is zeitgeist roiling about. 


Struggle and uprising, pain and empowerment, fear and hope are in the air.



When the towers fell on 9/11, I was in grad school working on an MFA degree. In the aftermath, the finer concerns of form and line and color and idea and material that impassioned us at the university seemed light indeed. When we gathered up in the still-smoldering shock, a professor said, It might seem like what you’ve been working on isn’t important or meaningful after what’s happened, but this is the time to be vigilant; what you care about and make is what this world very much needs right now.


While not so abrupt and jarring, this unfolding pandemic reminds me of that turbulent, disturbing post-9/11 time, when I needed to reach down to my roots, remember that my calling is to creative practice—to showing up with openness at the edge of the unknown, ready to listen and make. Amid the tumultuous waves coursing through, I practice what’s natural for my monkish nature: In this moment, this rearranging of What Is, in a long stream of choosing toward grace and harmony in a flow of honest endeavor. 





 
I weep at times with the state of the world, reground in what is wondrous, keep making what feels wonderful to me, knowing that while the vast upheaval washes through my experience, it takes with it the qualities of my existence, as it does with each of us. We are just beginning to rebuild our world—to establish new norms—and this is the finest time to focus on what we truly care about. 

I keep making, feeding the best of me back out into the whirl: a drop in the tide of massive change.




The world needs joyous and loving people capable of just being. 
                                                                   -Thich Nhat Hanh


Walk in the Wild





Sometimes earlier phases, places and objects intersect with the present, as if a journey has come full round—though not as much in a circle as a spiral, like a comet passing near enough to see, yet offset by the gravitational pull of time and change.

Late last year I let go of a piece I’d created while in grad school in 1999. I’d loved this family of standing branches across two decades, numerous moves, and bouts of living overseas.

It was an artwork that readily came to mind when I recalled from time to time one of the professors saying that the program was really about getting down to the deeper roots of our work, and that if we were successful, it would open up avenues of exploration we could draw from for the rest of our lives.

Familial (1999)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There was an ideal space for it in a gorgeous home here on Orcas Island. That, and knowing I could visit, eased the decision to release it. Getting Familial ready for delivery and installing it reawakened the 20-year old interest in sculpting free-standing branch forms. I found myself with not only all those years of creative exploration and experience with which to refresh the approach, but the most gorgeous Madrona branches within reach.

I’d planned to open up some of my processes and techniques in a sabbatical over the winter, so the prospect of playing out at last a long-fallow direction with so much more experience, and in ultra fresh ways was tantalizing indeed.
 
One big shift has been in thinking anew about the surfaces. When I made Familial, I was emerging from a focus on making furniture finished with deep layers of natural oil and earth pigment glazes.

Another interest at the time was paper-making, so all these years later, it’s been immensely satisfying to turn to it as well for a kind of skin on the emerging branch forms. I've made vibrant, multi-colored flax fiber paper, similar to what I was making for the  Lumenpear and SkyHull series. 
 

 
 
 
With this new, as-yet-unnamed series, I’m envisioning these human-scale branch forms having a range of relationships with light: being a continuation of the work in light-emitting sculpture, or perhaps simply reveling in whatever light falls upon or passes through parts of them, depending on what each piece calls for. 
 
Update: The series that spilled out of this work is here.

At the outset, I intended for this first one to be simply a branch form like a single one of the elements in Familial. Yet the space between its legs evoked a skirt-like form responding to their motion, adding to the sense of the piece being alive, frolicking in the sensuality of nature.
 
 
The “wild” aspect of its name refers to its not just walking in untamed nature, but being it: as if nature is dancing in itself. Where one would anticipate a head, there’s a crescent moon, as if the dreamy feminine is at the helm.
 
Walk in the Wild is about 6' tall.



Sky House series: Chrysalis (redux)


 

 

 

 

A while back I reapproached the base on Chrysalis, a piece I made in Bali in 2011 as part of the Sky House series. The base had been in paper on a copper wire armature, but reworking it in wire cloth with Madrona branch legs seemed a lovelier fit.

Chrysalis comprises the various stages of a butterfly's life: It's the caterpillar walking, the pupa with the flames of transformation, and the butterfly's wings emerging. 

About 27" long, 18" high.


Winter 2019/20: Return to the Studio




A pendulum pauses ever so briefly at the reach of its swing. What better time on the wheel of seasons than winter to mark the fleeting stillness between moving toward and moving away?

I’ve heard silence described as What’s left after the train passes through the tunnelNow, it seems stillness is What’s left when a long haul has come to a natural end.

Quietude comes more readily in the deep, damp chill. The garden beds and fields exude rest in their fallow ways. One’s animal bones and flesh are happy to follow in their own ways. 

While the remains of What Was decompose on the surface, in the underworld, soil teams with What Is to Be. 
This phase of change is a restful, gentle rekindling of my beloved art-making practice after a long, growthful stint on the more outward, hands-on designing/building side of my creative pendulum's swing.

Reawakening the mediums that have been fallow awhile feels like diving into a warm, familiar pool. Ah yes, I remember again this technique, that subtle touch… 












So even with winter’s hush all around, early spring emerges in my creative garden. The practice is, as I am, reborn in the act of showing up at the edge of the unknown, having grown in other sorts of doing, and bringing those gleanings with me.

Familiar materials and processes overlap with new ideas, technologies and approaches. Happy I am in a mix of old and new, hands, heart and head stoking the artistic fire.

In the stream of posts below, I’ll be sharing some thoughts and images from this arc of unfolding, so stop by every now and then and see what's taken form.

Not all artists are interested in creating by commission. I am. It's one of the ways my studio and architectural work flow together beautifully. If you'd like to open up a conversation, you can contact me here.

You can check out my portfolios of earlier work, including furniture and various phases of light-emitting sculpture.

Follow the creative flow on Instagram

A sibling screen

The first screen.



In an earlier post, I shared the remaking of a landscape screen on the Oregon coast. 

This first one was purposefully more sedate, as its role was to underscore the expansive view—to empathize with it, but not distract from it.

Winter view of the new home next door.


Fast-forward five years, a new house was built right off the corner of this exquisite home, obliterating its intimacy and privacy. This development called for a sibling screen to be a veil between.






With trees and lush growth all around, this one could be more wild and playful. And the large structure behind suggested it be more attention-seeking as well. The point wasn’t to hide the house, but to break up the mutual sight lines, while giving the eyes something besides the house to focus on. 






That it could and should be visually busier played along nicely with the need to reduce the see-through inherent in the woven slat design. When viewed straight on, the slats block the view readily. But as you move to the side, you increasingly see between the bowing slats. This wasn’t a concern with the first screen.






Some additional material that would obscure from the more oblique view was needed with this one as the angle of view stretching across the terrace, living room and master bedroom is very wide.

Screening is ideal, since it has the opposite effect of the slats: the view is best when looking straight through it, becoming more opaque as you view through it more obliquely. So in combination, the slats and the screening compensate for each other’s weaknesses.



This provided an opportunity to play with some abstract shapes floating down the length, like sea creatures in the streaming currents suggested by the serpentine copper lines. The bowed areas that allowed the most see-through were happily most available for inserting the large screen forms.











A concern of the owner was that we’d be introducing something that could make this area feel hemmed-in. With that in mind, I made the top of the screen lean outward at the top, as if the space is pouring out into sky. 

And where the screen begins on the half-wall, it’s away from the building and starts out lightly with just the copper and screen, leaving an opening to the landscape in that corner. 

A more sensory depiction, with the ever-present sound of the ocean: