Addition & Subtraction
May 22, 2022
I completed semester #3 and year #1 of my MFA journey this week. A year from today, if all goes to plan, I will have survived both writing and defending my graduate thesis.
Thus far, one of my grad school challenges has been to articulate the “why” at the core of my work. I can talk at length about certain facets of my paintings and process—“layers,” “excavation,” “remnants,” “texture,” “residue”—but have fumbled at times to articulate the fundamental meaning and central purpose driving everything I do artistically.
However, I believe I’ve reached a least the starting curve of a turning point lately. It came while I worked on All the Seasons in One Day, the main work of my final showcase this semester.
Like no piece before it, this one helped me realize that all of my work involves a search for balance between dichotomies: A balance between addition and subtraction; construction and deconstruction; discarded and discovered; trash and treasure; order and chaos; freedom and constraint; and a cohesive whole vs. random fragments.
Before starting it, I’d reached out to students and faculty in my program, soliciting remnants from their studios. “It could be a piece of a painting you’ve abandoned, a used-up paint tube, a scrap of textile you’ve thrown in the trash…anything,” I wrote in an email. Before long, several colleagues had dropped off a large, intriguing pile of material—everything from a papier-mâché puppet head and barnacle-covered porcelain, to strips of plexiglass and a bevy of fabric remnants, to which I then added stacks of wood, canvas and paper I’d been saving from my own paintings and sculptures. I didn’t know yet how to combine the disparate pieces, just that I had to do justice to these thoughtful donations.
Gradually, the piece took shape, including its largest section, a thick buildup of paper and fabric remnants. Once I’d laminated probably 10 or more layers of the brightly colored materials, I wielded a utility knife and began excavating (always my favorite part of any project). As I yanked, cut, pulled, sawed, gouged, and scraped, remnants of remnants fell to the floor. I collected those too, reinserting some of them right back onto the surface. Stepping back and studying the fruits of my excavation and buildup, my “why” epiphany started to form:
It’s all about balance.
There’s more exploration and learning ahead, of course. Lots more. But I’m excited to cross the MFA midway point with some new clarity. Now it’s a week or two of catching my breath before semester #4.