Ikebana: Creating What Never Was

Ikebana: Creating What Never Was

In my last post, I wrote of starting a new series of paintings, the Ikebana series. I described base-coating a number of canvases that were to be arranged and combined in such a way as to create two finished artworks, comprised of four canvases each. Since then, I took all of the prepped canvases out of temporary storage and worked with arranging them as I had written I would. Unfortunately the groupings didn’t “speak” to me. They just didn’t inspire me, so I laid out a number of different groupings of pairs of canvases, but again nothing.

In trying to assess the entire group of canvases, as elements in relation to each other, I decided that scale was an issue that was bothering me. In response, I went out and purchased four very small square canvases, 4” x 4,” and a fifth that is 5” x 5” and base-coated them.

My intention was to add one mini canvas to various pairs of larger canvases. I began grouping my coated canvases again and still couldn’t find an arrangement that had the correct proportionate balance. In the end, I chose the smallest square (8” x 8”) from the original group of canvases and synched it with the five new, even smaller, canvases. At this point, something began to work in my mind. Threads of inspiration began forming and I knew the direction, the context, that this first piece would take: wood, trees.

My husband’s late father operated a saw mill, on the property that we now live on. John worked with his dad since childhood, logging and milling timber. (Coincidentally my first name is derived from the term “woods.” It seems a nice match to my home.) Wood is everywhere here: living and leafy, stacked boards, firewood, rejected wood, gnarly, decaying, rotting, and some wood has been transformed into a wholly different kind of entity. Visually it is inspiring, but more importantly, it embodies the conceptual frame in which I work, that of a physical representation of invisible abstract information.

When you look at the end of a sawed log of a deciduous tree, one that has grown in a region where the seasons change, you can see the rings of growth from year to year. You can tell from each ring whether it was a good growing year or not. That year, that season, is long gone but the information from that time is trapped in the physicality of the tree’s rings. Likewise if you’ve lived in the countryside and have had the occasion to observe dead trees decaying, you get a sense of the conditions under which it has been decomposing. If the area was wet, the wood may be soft, even spongy. If it was dry, its structure may be largely intact, firm and preserved. If there are small holes of a certain type, bugs have eaten at it and tunneled through it. The bugs are gone, but you know they were there. Woodpeckers leave their calling cards as well.

The point is, there is something to be known about what is not present and not possible to experience, from the present spatial and temporal frame, of an observed physical element. That element embodies many relations that are not tangible. Those relations are the existence, the life of that element, regardless of what that element is. Regardless of whether it was every actually living or not. We understand that there was activity from what remains physically present. I am referring to forensics.

In my present paintings, my objective is to capture invisible information; not to represent it in symbolic form, but to create it where it never was. I am not expressing a concept. I am generating something in abstract space. That is, I am placing it into existence. I am passing my energy through from observable space to unobservable space, by constructing boundaries and an architecture that transcends the physicality of paint. By virtue of the laws of order, I can control the relationships of elements in my work, such that they function as more than an aggregate sum of parts. They are a system which has been reverse engineered to tell a forensic story of something that never happened. But, because I created it, it is happening, existing, in information space - an alternate reality.

In my mind, I am building a slice of physicality that cuts across multiple upward branches of a young tree. There is dominant trunk and several substantial subordinate branches, with some minor ones also caught in the bisection of this tree’s morphology.

From this, you as a secondary observer (I am the primary observer) will not know everything there is to know about this tree, however you will know some things. You will know the relative size of branches, from one to the other; and, you will know something about the angle that defines the direction of each branch leaving the trunk. 

Any particular branch might twist or turn in relation to the trunk, but here will be no way to know how many twists or turns there have been. You may or may not be able to tell if two branches are the bifurcation of a branch that was singular, as it left the tree’s trunk. If there are leaves present, what season it might be? Are there green leaves or orange? Are there blossoms present? Is the tree living or is it decaying? Had it been wounded? We will see, as I work through the various phases of this piece. This painting is the first of this series to really take form, but may not be the first to be completed. There are always competing inspirations which need to be expressed.

To my readers: this blog series is intended to document how I work and what moves me from one point to the next. I am writing quickly in these posts. They aren’t supposed to be eloquent. This is journaling. I hope to be able to look back on and learn something from what I have documented, while sharing this material with others.

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