Things, people, ideas—they operate with a certain kind of circularity. That coming round again has becomes even more apparent as I get older.
Last week I was at University of California at Santa Cruz for a show of my paintings at the college where I was an art student in the 70’s. The school has now grown to 17,000 students—there were just 4,000 when I was there—but the view from my favorite spot overlooking the Pacific is still unchanged, amazingly. And the decentralized campus of “clustered cloisters” still gives off a sense that this is a place that makes room for the introverts and the nomads in the population, those of us who can’t do groups and demand a peculiarly untethered approach to life and learning.
But most of all I was reminded of how things/people/ideas show up, disappear, come back again. In the words of Walter Hood, the brilliant UC Berkeley landscape architect and designer (and keynote speaker at a day long seminar about interdisciplinary exhibitions, architecture and community), it is not about erasing the past but about pushing at “palimpsesting.” He used another relevant phrase: “embrace the ephemeral.”
My show, “Material Ephemera,” plays with both ideas. Painting has a materiality that compels many of us to lean into that physical reality even more passionately as trends have moved the art experience away from that focus. From an earlier post, Resolute Materiality, this defense of painting from Eric Crosby still rings true:
There’s also something about the resolute materiality of painting that continues to attract artists. These are objects that follow deeply subjective and individual ways of thinking, as expressed through specific materials…Painting offers a frame for contact with this very physical presence. It’s a vivid contrast with our daily routine, where we experience so many images by using a cursor, linking to them, altering them, navigating away from them. Painting resists this kind of experience. A lot of artists today embrace that notion to an extreme. They go where the materials take them, not where the history of painting tells them to go.
Two other experiences spoke to that material ephemerality. One was visiting Kenjilo Nanao, the extraordinary printmaker and painter who is now in his 80s. While frail of body, he was at work in his studio, a brush in hand between frequent lay downs on the mattress in the corner. Material and ephemeral. We are both.
The second was being introduced to the Snail Painters. While a full moon illuminated the Pacific Ocean at 3AM, it also revealed the night time markings of a small gaggle of snails on the window glass where we were staying. Part Joan Mitchell, part Brice Marden and part Terry Winters, these moondanced masterpieces evaporate when the sun comes up. Luckily I awoke in time to catch the invertebrates in their own celebration of circularity before any trace of their magic was gone.