The High Desert of Oregon was my first landscape, my first painting, and my first world. I grew up in the small town of Lakeview Oregon with a population of 3,500 people nestled in a valley near the point where Northern California, Nevada and Southeastern Oregon converge. It was this natural world of the Pacific Northwest that greatly shaped my understanding and development of figure ground relationships, how I identify and represent landscapes, and how I employ space and scale in creating an image. Herds of animals are indicators of vast landscapes. An animal or herd’s scale in relation to the landscape allows for the development and exploration of space, meaning, and contrast within a two-dimensional image plane.
After graduating from the University of Washington in Seattle I began a degree in painting at the University of Oregon, Eugene. I was introduced to Rosalind Krauss’ Sculpture in the Expanded Field and Rem Koolhaas’ Junkspace, which, coupled with my previously established ideas regarding landscape and sense of place, formed a solid, yet complicated foundation for my current work: meaning is ever changing because it is created by language; language contains within it infinite layers of potential meaning; these layers are greatly effected by an identifier’s placement and proximity to other identifiers within the picture plane.
Following my graduation from the University of Oregon I worked, for the first time, outside of an academic structure, to further develop my ideas and practice. The work during this time period began from a base of dichotomy: inside/outside, pattern/chaos, opaque/transparent, figuration/abstraction, micro/macro, nature/constructed. Using items typically found in interiors such as office lights, ceiling fans, and wallpaper patterns I created vast landscapes that doubled as surreal interiors.
In 2009 I was accepted into Hunter College’s MFA Painting program. The move from rural Oregon to the busy streets of New York City was difficult to adjust to. I had never been in a city where the manmade structures so completely eliminated the natural world. My work transformed greatly in response to the alteration in location, no longer was I building vast open landscapes doubling as interiors. I began creating dense, crowded compositions where light fixtures, smog, construction equipment, and power lines competed with each other on a dark plaid landscapes. The paintings culminated in muddy, uninteresting compositions of indiscernible figures on non-descript backgrounds. With the loss of information in the picture plane the play on meaning that I had originally strived for was destroyed. The work became relatable to Junkspace in that all substance and specificity were lost leaving replaceable spaces that were, at the same time, both empty full. In response to this observation I began to reexamine what information was and was not essential in the exploration of organization and its relation to meaning. I hoped that by conducting the investigation in the form of drawing, rather than painting, that the change in medium would shine new light on the problem. Applying ink to paper was much faster than oil on canvas, and I was able to perform a much more extensive study into the endless combinations of signifiers within and in relation to the picture plane.
Around the same time that I began exploring my ideas through drawing I was taking a theory and criticism course that introduced me to the base texts of Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Fredrich Nietzsche, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Ferdinand de Saussure. The ideas presented throughout the course forced me to be more aware of the signifiers I was using and how they could developed to a greater degree not only to investigate definition, but also to delve deeper into how society assigns meaning to signifiers. I began using bows, pandas, cats, dogs, hearts, and flower patterns in an effort to better understand the gender and meaning assigned to different figures and representations within the forum of a picture frame. I questioned how that meaning could be transformed or taken away based on location and interactions with other signifiers.
With the use of gender and age specific images, the drawings took on a very graphic, juvenile quality. The paintings created in conjunction with the drawings were fights between the abstract and the figurative. In both mediums, drawing and painting, the compositions were trimmed down, attempting to deal with a single figure or group of figures interacting with a single opposing figure or group of figures on a shallow field of space similar to a stage set. Meaning in these images became very static due to the lack of ambiguity in the depiction of the figure as well as the unconsidered use of heavily saturated hues based strictly on aesthetic choices rather than making choices based on well thought-out relationships between hue and signifier.
During the spring semester of 2011 I participated in an exchange at the University of Art Berlin. The change in location as well as the vast reduction in the size of my studio space immediately affected my practice. I began working on a smaller scale with new signifiers and altered relationships to previously employed signifiers. In an effort to more carefully explore the figures and signifiers in my compositions I limited the palette to a single hue, either blue or black, but still allowing for variation in transparency, saturation, and value within the hue structure.
While in Berlin I attended a lecture by Hal Foster The Catastrophe of Minimalism, at the John F. Kennedy Institute Berlin, Germany (20 April, 2011). During the lecture Foster, in reference to Land Art, implied the only difference between an experience and an illusion is a frame. I began using Foster’s argument as a new foundation for the organizational system of figure and ground in my compositions. Previous images I had constructed as wall as everyday visual ephemera became the material source for the work. Images were used to build layers of frames within frames, representation within representation, and meanings within meanings. The structure of the work was further aided by my many visits to museums. Variations in the ordering and displaying of artifacts in the museums related to the way in which individuals order their surroundings revealing an internal logic.
Berlin brought with it a change in language adding another layer to my thought process. Being immersed in the German language and culture, I began to compare and contrast an object or ideas meaning in relation to the language used to identify it. Some words in German were so specific in describing the subject while equivalent word in English was general and vague. It is the investigation of signifier in relation to sign coupled with use of the frame that will be basis for the work I will create for my thesis show in June of 2012.