muonionalusta meteorite, lapis lazuli, eucrite, and carbon on paper
47.5 x 25 inches
This piece will make its debut on September 1 at my upcoming show at Davidson Galleries in Seattle, Washington.
I grew up next to a small estuary on the Oregon coast. Presiding over the estuary were blue herons. Their rookery was located in a stand of trees directly behind my house and each morning and evening I would count them as they flew over. I often found their feathers and, for a time after I left home, I carried a single primary feather with me as a reminder of where I had come from.
In 2005, I started a series of paintings titled Alchemical Feathers. At that time, I was reading the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, whose explorations of material imagination profoundly influenced the way I approach material. There is the physical material and then the material as it inhabits the imagination. Bachelard led me to closely observe ways that physical materials take on a new life and meaning when they enter and are transformed by my own imagination. The process of how they take residence in the imagination usually involves a great convolution of delights. There is the acquisition of the material, the study of it, its pulverization, the eventual making of a paint, and all of the myriad details that accompany such events. What I have found is that each of these acts (and all of them in concert) attaches to the imaginal object.
Lapis lazuli can be blue, it can be a robe in the Sistine Chapel, and it can be a vein of lazurite along the Kokcha River in Afghanistan. It can be an image in a poem by Neruda, it can conjure peacocks, it can take the form of a scarab beetle, and be riddled with iron pyrite that refuses to be pulverized in the mill. It can be the vehicle through which one befriends a connoisseur of medieval manuscripts, and it can be a Roman aphrodisiac. Its color changes dramatically between its dry and wet states—Cleopatra used it for her eye shadow. These are just a handful of voices of lapis lazuli. If I remember even one of these details while I paint with this pigment, the course of my painting will change. In short, this approach to material has changed the way that I see the world, as well as the way I dream the world.
Alchemical Feathers contemplate transformations within the material imagination—they give rocks, denizens of the Earth, the agency of flight. I named the works after the mineral used to make each feather such as Cinnabar Feather, Lapis Feather, Ascensional Pearl Feather, Malachite Quill, and so forth. I had begun to take minerals and grind them up into pigments that I used to make paints. I am fond of poetic images and with these pieces began to understand that these various materials were a kind of voice, that the materials of my production could be understood not just as a language of their own, but as means for intersecting my own language.
When I began to paint these feathers with meteorite dusts, I decided to mix meteorite with terrestrial materials. One day, I mixed meteorite and lapis lazuli. To my astonishment, the resulting color was that of a blue heron.