The Spindle

Antique Japanese Zakuri silk reel made in the Edo Period around 1840.

The images created in the 90 Ojime stories and pictures wind around a spindle of understanding as to how ecologies emerge. Think of a newly emerged volcano rising up out of the ocean. It doesn’t take long for that barren rock to become colonized, depending on latitude, with an eco-system. In the tropics the usual form is the coral reef. Well-known to us because of its stunning beauty and variety of life-forms, the reef is rightly glamorized in countless images. This beauty is also found in preserved patches of prairies, in the North-Woods forests of the mid-west, our National Parks and the National Parks of Africa and South America. Being in any of these ecologically intact environments makes one feel a sense of rightness, of happiness beyond its opposite. I like the experience. I live just a 10 minute drive from one of those places, the Point Reyes National Seashore.

As a 12 year old in 1959, I was a participant in a class called “Ecology.” No-one knew what that word meant back then. There was a gifted teacher who organized a group of high school students to study and collect specimens from a creek that ran through a farm, abandoned since the Depression. Since no farm chemicals had been used in 25 years, the critters and plants in and surrounding the creek were thriving. I had talked my way into the class of older kids by telling about my collecting in the summer camp I had attended. My fellow campers nicknamed me “Nature-Boy” for my avidity in collecting frogs and snakes. I was adept with a microscope and a dissection pan. I told the teacher how I had cut the heart out of a living frog and put it in a dish of saline solution to watch it beat away on its own. I passed the squeamish barrier, so he let me in. It was a great and unforgettable summer of wonders unfolding every day.

This is an article from 1959 describing our summer class. Seems like a life-time ago, it was, but is still so much with me.

There was class-room study, but the bulk of the time we spent collecting what we could find in and around Exline Creek, in Kankakee County, Illinois. The University of Illinois used our findings to expand the territory of certain animals not well documented before that class. Of course, Ecology is the study of inter-relationships of living things; it forms the structure of my work, and has for the last 45 years. Along with Evolution, this is the cornerstone of my work as an artist.

A widing spindle depicted on an Edo Period medicine box pointing to the heartbreaking story of separated lovers.

In Biology, systems of living things thrive or decline depend on the robustness of the inter-relationships of many factors moving toward the complexity we call a System. Take the Coral Reef System which is well-known because of its sheer beauty, depends on the spindle of relationships, winding toward ever greater complexity. I take as my jumping off point the image from the last post “Pictures in Pictures” The image is on a finely crafted object depicting a winding spindle used in silk production. What I do in my studio is make images of things, some abstract gestural, some highly rendered. They are created in a variety of mediums. Cut out, they are spread around on tables then with magnets, mounted on sheet metal walls covering three walls of my studio. This way the pieces are easily moved around. I never, never try to make a picture of something. The pieces come together because of a visual rightness—do I like the way something looks with something else? Once a group of images falls into a pleasing ensemble it’s ready to be a “work.” Sometimes days pass without meaning assigned, in some cases, years. Lately, I have been photographing the work and then a kind of ekphrasis (a literary term for describing art) takes place and the work is titled. This way of working collage-like is linked to the French word bricolage. (A bricoleur is a handy-man who uses what is lying around to fix things). It means a handy-work made with what is at hand. In my case the things “at hand” are all things I have created over an extended time, so time is also a factor as things I’ve made sift through the piles of cutouts made over the last few decades.

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