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.


 

There's a show of our work at the Orcas Center through September 28th and I've sent my special envoy, Cloud Usher, to represent the clan of creatures I've created.

She's the only flying one (so far) of the current Spiritus Naturalis series, and the longest (tallest?) at 8.2 feet.

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 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.


New series: Spiritus Naturalis





(There's a page dedicated to this series, with close-up images and some studio-nerdy thoughts on the process.)

 

Surf Sylph stands offshore, its legs in cool water, ushering the forces of water and wind meeting land. 

With a crustacean feel in form and color, it reminds me of unusual, colorful tide pool creatures.

It's ideally a table-top piece at about 30" tall.

 

 

 

 




Tailwind Sprite seems blown from behind, keen on moving in a forward direction. Its base is cooler-toned with greens, blues and purples. Warm red and yellow tendrils revel in being blown onward. This piece stands about 56" tall.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Having just gotten some peat moss for the garden, it wasn't a big leap to see this creature at home in a peat bog, given its stouter stance and earthy colors. Its main tendril seems lasso-like in form, but intelligent, curious, erotic and perhaps fatal to prey.

Sometimes it seems very still, yet ready to leap into action. At others, like it's in motion already.   

Bog Sylph is 45" tall.

 


 


At roughly 6' tall, Marsh Sylph has a heron-like feel. I readily imagine it wading out in the marshlands, at home with the grasses and reeds.

 

Bog Sylph and Tailwind Sprite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


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.