Mark Making/Making Meaning

Our past studio—industrial– LOUD, squealing trains; overpass and docked cargo ships just the other side of the grain elevator, etc.  A gardener maintained a serene space behind corrugated tin—a slice of charm.

That last summer the garden spilled to the parking strip. Something tall and tropical shot up casting shadows on the clapboard, gray wall.  Pods nestling orange buttons stood erect. A radiated mantis from a subtitled, ‘B’ movie came to mind.  As the west light began to retreat late in the season the stalks started to droop, eventually crackling in the wind. Orange turned to Van Dyke brown, green to Naples yellow.

The stems were even more compelling dry than they were fresh and fleshy in living color. Curvaceous, paper-thin forms curled around a collection of still tightly-bound seeds. Stick straight stalks splayed this way then that, some see-through, some lay in layers– they rattled rhythms when carried across the room.  Then there were the multiple curly bits that hung in clusters from scarecrow bent elbows.

Sheila brought one into the studio.  Everyone painted it–me, Sheila, Angelina, Beverly.  It was/is seductive when close.  Its entire life stays evident in the dried remains.  The forms are beautiful.

This “dead thing” has been pinned to the studio wall for close to ten years.  But every now and again…

I moved it eye level right next to my canvas and began to render it large on the four-foot square. Using a very soft (9B) graphite stick I “watched” it closely and responded—some marks swooped through the space like a soaring bird, others fell strait and hard like rain.  Depending on the music, the little buttons were formed with ticker tape, staccato stabs, or tight, obsessive circles, or delicate figure-eights caressing each other—orange then brown then orange.  I could smell the sun that dried the thing and smiled at the memory of that gritty, beloved building—my arm went wide across the canvas.  Sometimes the squealing metal on metal memory sliced through a negative shape zigzagging towards the edges.

The marks were good, expressive– some made with deep pressure squeezing the graphite into the tooth. Others were faint as to not disturb the delicate parched forms.  My hand, tool, surface and subject all danced. Not a bad start, but the nature of the long, thin object filled two sides of the picture plane leaving the middle almost blank. A repeat pattern perhaps?—it wasn’t conscious but railroad tracks emerged to unite the two sides of the painting. It worked, for now.

The point of all of these adjectives is to illustrate that our subject can have a life. It can begin to breathe, to tell a story, a story to which we react and of which we become a part–even if we are looking only at a dried weed. The story will be different for every person.  But if we connect to what we see, if we allow ourselves to get swept up in its energy, the marks become a conduit for something that may not be named, but may have meaning that can be seen and felt. Marks that connect to others.  Marks that can be made by the one and only you.

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2 Responses to Mark Making/Making Meaning

  1. Gary St. John says:

    Wow! Beautiful writing…maybe there is an illustrated novel inside of you waiting to make it’s mark.

    • joanngilles says:

      Thanks Gary–I’d love to write more and better. it’s interesting because the “having something to say” is the same in both writing and painting. And for me, only when I can get into that special space does it seem to flow. The trick is to get there. That is the constant struggle and provides never-ending pressure. I need to learn the wisdom I seem to be able to tell everyone else, but have a hard time teaching myself. your kind words help. Thanks again

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