In the Age of Horror Vacui

Note:  This page was formerly called Farm Girl Landscapes.  I changed the title so there will be no confusion when I set up another page coming soon to showcase the work of my 2010 solo show at Kaskaskia College.

Farm Girl Landscapes in the Age of Horror Vacui was the title of my thesis and exhibition which fulfilled my Master of Fine Arts work at SIUE in 2003. This page is devoted to showcasing a few of the thirty art works I did for the thesis show. 

From time to time I will add to the page and you may find I have changed the order of things as I scan more slides because I only have a handful of pieces from my exhibition in my picture file at this time.

The concept of horror vacui, fear of a vacuum, fear of empty space, has long affected the way I work.  I understood what I was doing without having a name for it, that is, not until I met Laura Foster Nicholson who came as visiting artist in my last year of grad school.  She confessed she works to fill every available space in her designs and used the term in her artist lecture as she showed us a rich tapestry interpretation of Thomas Jefferson's kitchen gardens viewed from above.  I can't seem to help myself, the hands will do what they want and I find I too have filled every available space. 

Tin Roof, c2002 was composted and rusted simultaneously--a practice I seldom do anymore because the length of time it takes to compost means the rust becomes very strong and can damage the silk.  It is also one of a very few pieces I created directly on the ground without any plastic protection underneath.  I constantly had to monitor the piece and re-wet the fabric.  Tin Roof was one of 9 large silk pieces approximately 45" wide by 9' long that hung in the atrium outside the New Wagner Gallery.  As part of the Farm Girl Landscape show the silk represented my becoming a farmer myself--albeit via reverse farming--by "planting" already harvested vegetation on the silk and allowing it to decompose.  

Tin Roof was juried into Fiber Focus 2003 at Art Saint Louis, part of Innovations in Textiles a biennial collaborative event that takes place at several venues in the St. Louis metro region.  The piece received an Award of Excellence and cash prize in the show and was purchased by a collector on the day of the opening.  Coming just a few weeks after finishing grad school, it was quite an honor to be recognized.

Over the summer and fall preceeding my final semester I composted over 50 yards of silk.  Here are 6 of the 10 large pieces for the show that survived whole cloth.  However, a number of pieces ended up literally in pieces because the acid in the walnuts weakened or completely ate through the fibers.  I was in a quandary over what to do.  For a time I considered quilting with the silk.  I had just purchased a book on the Gees Bend quilts and spent a lot of time marveling at them.  It occurred to me that my attraction to aerial views, fields and maps was amplified when I looked at those beautiful pieced quilts.  

The idea to make collages with the remnants of composted silk won out over quilting and I began the first of many works in this medium.  Nine were completed for the thesis show.  Collaging enabled me to present the silk completely flat so that every detail and nuance of nut, berry and leaf imagery was visible.  In addition I was able to overprint with woodcuts, etchings, and monotypes as well as draw into the surface.

Black Walnut c2003 is one of the first collages I built using organically printed and rusted silk overprinted with an early version of a large woodcut representing 25 square miles in Madison County, Illinois.  The leaf in the corner is a photo etching created on silk tissue paper with a polymer plate.   The collage like the others is approximately 36" x 50"  printed on tan Rives BFK. The title is a reference to the large number of walnut trees on the property where I live.

You Blow So Many Things Away c2003 required the help of an assistant to position the silk once I had sprayed the glue on the back as the silk fragment was over 45 inches long.  Photo safe spray mount was used in building all the collages and the pieces were run through the printing press several times to ensure the bond would be permanent.  Placement of the silk always came first and challenged me to make other additions in relation to the silk which I viewed as specimens.  The title in this piece references the poem (upper left) about the wind that was torn from a vintage school book.

 Fields of November c2003 introduced fabric scraps that came from my mother's stash and were remnants of my dad's overalls and shirts worn on the farm.  I stained the narrow blue striped fabric with walnut ink and split the silk so that the stripes could take center stage.  

Below is a gallery shot including four other collages.

Portrait of the Farmer as a Young Man c2002 is part of a series of one of a kind intaglio etchings.  This one was printed with 5 separate copper plates and a monotype.  The image is my dad at about age 20 playing his guitar.  I made a Xerox transfer of an old snapshot to create the plate with his image. The map on another plate was done the same way.  Soft ground etching was used for the leaves on yet another plate.  The text was created with hard ground.  The map is of Bond County were I grew up.  There are two layers of text telling stories about life on the farm but they are not intended to be read and in fact are mostly unreadable.
Shoal Creek Stories, Alice c2003. is another of the etchings.  The plates were designed to be interchangeable.  Some of the etchings reversed the order of printing as you can see here.  Some did not include all the plates.  The series incorporated other vintage family photos printed on silk tissue and glued into the base print.  All of the etchings share the common idea of pentimento--the finished etchings containing layers of mark making that allow a glimpse of what's underneath, but the not the whole story at once.  

  Howard Johnson's Farm Before Color TV c2003 depicts the farm and surrounding fields where I grew up in three perspectives.  Imagine you are in a plane looking down at the patchwork of fields below, first from a moderate height, then swooping down for a close up and then zooming straight up to 30,000 feet.  

I was deeply affected by the work of Wayne Thiebaud early in my printmaking experience.  Both his urban and rural landscapes seem to offer multiple viewpoints simultaneously.  I find his wacky perspectives fascinating and was intent on creating my own.   

I likened the experience of carving this 4 foot long block to plowing fields which reinforced my personal connection to farming.  The grids of the fields visible in the woodcut are also present in the etchings and the collage on the far right in the grouping above.  In the state of Illinois  land is measured in sections platted by townships which are in most cases perfect squares. 

Howard Johnson's Farm, Pleasant Mound Road c2002 is a five color version of this woodcut made before the black and white print above.  I love reduction printing but was loathe to actually reduce my block by further carving.  To preserve it, I managed to produce the effect simply by wiping and brushing the ink away using cotton swabs, rags, and bristle brushes.  One color was printed at a time.  I say simply--but actually it was not.  Each color took hours to wipe before printing and then had to dry for several days before the next color could be overprinted.  In addition, it was difficult to keep track of where I needed to wipe away ink to preserve the next color or create a new one when colors overlapped.  Like the multi plate etchings, registration of the block was another challenge to ensure the image would be crisp and not blurry from misprint.  I used the reduction wipe method in a companion piece to this woodcut (see below) as well as some smaller woodcuts not pictured here.  

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