Songs of Seeing
Before I fell and fractured my skull ice skating, I used to paint dry brush watercolors of biological subjects. My style was deliberately super-realistic in order to call attention to treasures of nature that others might miss. For some time after my TBI moonlit misfortune I could not write or draw -– neither muscle nor mind up to the task. Sadly, after the accident my small motor skills have never fully recovered. However, in this age of iPads and apps with an UNDO button, I can once again make art. I photograph with my smartphone and a simple point-and-shoot camera, and often I digitally paint on my photographs. There is a special, rather hypnotic intensity of these works viewed on a digital screen. Perhaps the visual image comes to me first or sometimes the other way round.
My artist/author’s interpretation of the subject is deliberately minimal. The works are arranged in groups of thirty, about like the number found in an antique poetry chapbook. I mean them to be revisited often, for an experience both personal and intimate whether viewed as works on paper or on screen. Also my works deliberately show hardly any humans. There is usually no age, gender, race or culture suggested.
Art is for everyone. Enjoyment should require no special education or status in life. As I worked with my fusion surimono I found that unconsciously I was making decisions that would make reading/viewing my work more comfortable for someone who was facing challenges such as I had after my TBI. I now keep my surimono visual images not complex or abstract, and the verbal content of my poems not obscure. My natural history subjects may be exotic but the depictions are largely self-explanatory.
When I regained consciousness in the hospital, I was not frightened. I think that was because I heard my brother and husband talking over my comatose body in the previous days. I could see that I was in hospital and all those tubes and beeping machines and nurses scuttling about meant that I was being cared for. In the course of my stay in the Intensive Care Unit, I remember being baffled by an overheard disparaging comment on my doctor’s nut brown skin color. I noticed that the male nurse carefully adjusted the Johnny gown for maximum modesty before sliding me into the tube of the MRI scanner. One nurse commented to another on my age. All that seemed quite meaningless to me: I felt no age, no race, no gender as my identity.
Further, I felt a detachment about my condition, certainly not a terrible view from the inside of me. As I look back, I find this comforting. One of the most interesting lessons of my accident was this demonstration of what is essential about us, what I feel is the very core of being human. In my works one will not find any politics. There will be beauty; no judgments, no confrontations, no threats, no violence. I think of these pictured poems as safe experiences for the vulnerable, sustaining for the exhausted caregiver.
The form of these vignettes was inspired by the 19th century Japanese woodblock prints commissioned by poetry societies. “Surimono” because the originals were called surimono, meaning “printed thing”, square, about 8”x8”, with the words and the images equal partners. The reader/viewer adds their own interpretation so in a sense, one plus one equals three. I use both my photographs and my paintings and I sometimes digitally paint on the photographs. Visual and verbal style of these works follows no particular school of painting or poem making but the fusion of digital techniques— think point-and-shoot and cell phone cameras, Photoshop and an explosion of apps—opens a wide new world.