the thought-stream of an artist and writer

Tracey Physioc Brockett

the thought-stream of an artist and writer

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Learning to Dance

Diagram X, ink and acrylic on paper, 9 x 11, 2011. 

John Playford published a collection of English country dance tunes in 1651 called The Dancing Master   and they haunt me whenever I am lucky enough to hear one. One of my current favorites, because I recently heard a stellar arrangement by the Ensemble Galilei is Woodycock. Others, such as The Black Nag  have also been played and rearranged for three and a half centuries by many musicians in many styles.

Dancing Master 9/11/11, ink and acrylic on paper, 10 x 11, 2011.

I think of little old dancing masters going from great house to great house, teaching children the complicated patterns of the English set dances. I think of the itinerant musicians, and the loneliness of those people who did not have a home, who lived apart, neither landowner nor servant, who lived on the pleasures and whims of others, and who made gaiety even if they did not feel it. Sometimes all one can do is dance a little while in the company of others. The music haunts, because it seems to me to suggest all of that.

Jig, acrylic, ink, conte crayon and water soluble crayon on paper, 16 x16, 2011

I think of pattern, the wonderful quarterings of those tunes, the divisions that take the tune into a more and more abstract region with each turn.... taking the simple line as far as possible into complication with, often, just one instrument. And I think of the twirling dancers swinging back and forth in space, making into three and four dimensions all the joys and complications of our brief turn on this swiftly rotating planet.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Plans and Diagrams; Intention Manifest

I don't know what a painting or drawing is all about until it is done. I can't see it before hand, and have varying degrees of understanding while I'm working on it. It's all possibility until the end.

When I think about the impulse behind starting a work it's like seeing some sort of ghost. I throw a line out in an excess of feeling, mostly frustration, maybe despair, and see what it suggests as the next move. I know what I've done before that worked, or didn't, but while I'd like success again, I am in new territory.

 Beginnings are easier than what comes next. A sketch or a study deals with aspects of things. I think of it as an outwardly exploding diagram of possibilities. At the beginning of things so much is possible. Each move brings me closer to the end game. I don't know precisely why that is so difficult.

Almost invariably I get totally lost and in a panic. I make a wrong turn and I know it immediately, though I don't know why I should. My eyes see only chaos. I am painting with another sense.

Of my many bad habits, maybe the worst is stopping too soon. One can always pick up later, I think. I love looking at sketches that promise so much. I sometimes must leave them in this state until I have gathered courage to move on. It's only paper and ink, canvas, not life and death, so why does it feel so desperate?

I don't always know when to stop either. I still can't see. Sometimes I do know right away when I have made that adjustment that puts it all right, sends it ticking like a wound clock. When I look at it, I can't imagine how it was done, though I was there for it all. At some point the good ones no longer belong to me, and it is the appearance of that other that is the happiest part of this process. I love being embroiled in this struggle and I love breaking free. It shifts time. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nature Abhors A Vacuum

We are awaiting the first major winter storm of the season. Sounds before a storm always seem louder and more resonant to me. I know there is a technical reason for this - having to do with sound waves moving through low atmospheric pressure. It's something my musician husband knows about. I am more interested in what this phenomenon feels like and means in human terms.
We know that the universe is made of various kinds of particles moving and reacting in amazing complexity. Space is a word that conjures up a vast emptiness, but in fact refers to something we don't really understand. As an artist of course I've been interested in the idea of negative space. I love the look of a a shape being pushed and pulled, weighed down by gravity. It has been a understanding among 2 and 3 dimensional artists to think of the space around an object as a solid force with it's own visual weight, and we artists were not all that off the mark. Space is not empty.
I live in an old house in an old neighbourhood, with buildings all wedged in together higgledy-piggledy, and I can feel sound. It is physical, solid. My windows rattle with the percussion of car doors slamming. It bounces off walls and ricochets until I can't tell at all where it came from.

The things that scientists use to explain theories of the Universe sound like the titles of abstract art to me; string theory, chaos theory, dark matter, strange matter, dark energy. When I was in college I hung out with particle physics and astronomy grad students, friends and boyfriends of my room-mates. Their theorizing seemed like a strange brand of philosophy, building on observed facts but light and airy and quite capable of collapse. The known parts of the universe, stars, planets, galaxies are only about 4% of of all matter in space. The rest of it is dark- 23% they call dark matter, and 73% the mysterious dark energy. These are areas that don't radiate light. Because we can't see it, we don't (yet) know if it's is ruled by gravity as is the rest of the universe. Experiments being done at this time seem to suggest it might not be.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Alchemy: Earth, Metal, Water.

Bridges here in this part of New England are iconic, historic, symbolic and essential, and last week they were under siege. A huge portion of them did not survive; wooden covered, stone arched, delicate iron spans and serviceable concrete alike. And roadways, some originally Indian traveling paths that followed the rivers have been erased. Cornfields that were Indian fields before they were white settler's were scoured of their loam right down to the bedrock last polished by glaciers. The Deerfield Valley, food basket for hundreds of years, and with ancient historical boundaries, is carved into new land with new river beds. The human toll here is huge too. A week after the hurricane there is a small community butted up against the Berkshire hills that is still isolated, people not yet accounted for. Houses and barns on the drive we are taking to Williamstown are undercut, with possessions strewn in the yards, or hanging in the trees along the now quiet creeks. You can tell it happened in an instant. I know it is much worse to the west of us, in the Catskills, and north in Vermont. I have been beaten into a dark silence with the magnitude of it.
Here in the hills one watches the sky. Live here very long and you begin to feel the land. There are still bits and pieces that have never been cut or shaped by man. There are little hollows that have different weather. I have Native American friends whose tribal lands these were. White friends whose families have farmed the same land since the 1600's. Knowledge runs very deep.

We are on our way to the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, a little marble gem of a place in Williamstown MA, to see work by El Anatsui, the Ghanian sculptor. I've known of his work since the Venice Biennale in 2007, when he draped the Palazzo Fortuny with a metal fabric that echoed the architecture, but this is the first time I have seen it first hand. So many of the roads, the bridges we would usually take are closed, and so the trip takes 2 1/2 hours when normally it would take 1. It has become a pilgrimage, a prayer, this drive. We witness.

Delta, detail

El Anatsui has worked in many mediums; metal, clay, wood, but the 3 pieces we have come to see are recycled labels and caps of liquor bottles, fastened together with copper wire to form flexible metal blankets of extraordinary, mesmerizing beauty. They stun.

Intermittent Signals

His work speaks to me of shifting roads and rivers, hammered out in copper wire and old tin, fault lines running through continents and centuries, spilling and held back, defying it's materials to become molten movement, liquid time. El Anatsui himself speaks about change in his talks. He is adamant that the curators of shows of his work have the authority to manipulate the work to fit the space, to make it unique to the place in which it has come to rest. That seems an extraordinary and generous thing, to separate so completely from the work as to guarantee it has a life apart from it's creator.

Strips Of Earth's Skin
There is a subtext in these works, of colonialism and post colonialism and cultural appropriation . The very materials here are post consumer detritus from bottles imported from the west, originally, El Anatsui has said as a kind of currency to finance and perpetuate the slave trade. It strangely echoes the emotional-historical landscape I have just driven through, where the battle for White European supremacy over this land was really first begun, where time has layered the roads and even place names with a memory that runs as deep as the glacial rock below.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Qualities of Line

After a lapse of 30 years I am back in the printmaking studio, wondering why it has taken me so long to return. In the past I worked in etching and engraving, falling in love with the delicate possibilities of dry-point. Now I am working on mono-prints, the first time I have really explored colour in printmaking. I am using fairly new waterbased inks called Akua, and I am still reserving judgement. The cleanup is incredibly easy and they are beautifully workable but I am not sure they will be vibrant enough for me in the end. I am told the manufacturer is always refining the formulas. They technically never dry, are just absorbed into the paper, so they are already softer and more nuanced than when first pulled from the press.
In viscosity printing the control comes with varying the heaviness of the inks, which resist each other more or less depending on how apart they are on the viscosity scale. The thinner or more "jelly" layer will resist blending with the thicker "peanut butter" ink, and inks that are more alike will blend together more. The viscosity is manipulated by adding agents to stiffen or loosen the ink.
I have been thinking for a long time about this project, which parallels my painting interests in exploring line and shape as both solid and fugitive, atmosphere and particle, repelled and connected to each other in various contexts that make up ineffable intellectual and emotional situations. With a little squeeze bottle it is possible to draw on the plate in the thin line I am imagining. Successive printings of the plate build up history that normally takes weeks or months on a canvas. The inks can also be rolled or brushed on, wiped off, masked off with stencils and masks, and the ghosts can be printed on over and over. The huge rollers used to ink the colour that becomes the ground can be in turn be rolled over a fresh plate. In the day that I have to explore this I am just beginning to grasp possibilities for myself.

Printing in reverse shows me clearly the left side bias I have worked so hard to mitigate in my work(I am very left eye dominant, and that subject may be another blog). It was a hard battle for me to accept just how much my brain controlled things organically. I thought for a long time that painting had to be a battle of will.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Properties of Association

The Sleeper Awakes
I collect things. Any box or bag will get my attention, or bit of embroidery. I also have a collection of rulers, and one of steel cutlery, with bone and celluloid handles. I have many animal skulls, horns and teeth, feathers, quills. hair, pretty ribbons, old wooden spools, ancient ladies gloves, doll house furniture, some of it exquisitely old. I keep many things laid out in old toolboxes, the kind with drawers. When I was little I kept very little. My taste ran to the spare almost monastic. I don't know what happened, but I overflow with the Baroque now, even Rococo. I hoard old clock parts and game pieces for the day they will find their match. They have their own thingness, a specific meaning that is part appearance, part what they stood for in their first life. I give them a context sometimes very different from the original, sometimes possibly clarifying, or maybe mystifying. Lost little bits, when they were found they were only a word, a whispered one at that. I put them in a sentence.


The Tower

Door knobs and handles, keys, opening the unknown. Salt and pepper shakers, old shaving brushes, the regulators from old cast iron radiators, they all look like personalities to me. Old bottles, especially inkwells...

Untitled Windowbox On The Subject Of Time

I like things that were once very fine, but have been abused by time. I am really deeply moved by what I imagine is their history. I love religious objects, crucifixes and rosaries, saint's medals and icons, Christian or Hindu it doesn't matter. It is the feel of the object that has had such deep unwavering attention attached.
In Search of Cures

I don't really know what I'm about with these fiddlings. They don't seem to have anything to do with my painting, which is abstract, non-representational, non-biographical. I have a painter friend who draws en plein air pastels of trees, apple orchards, mountains against the sky to exercise, maybe even exorcise before going into the studio to work on  her abstracts. Perhaps that is what I am doing. I never take these seriously, although they are as demanding to do as any of my work.

A Little Like Prayer

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vigil In Satan's Kingdom

I am entering that twilight where I work when others sleep. My Hospice case demands that I be a watcher, on guard for the least restless murmur over the monitor, and in tired anxiety I feel I am holding up all that I love in my vigil. Dawn on the mountain in this season of neither winter nor spring is half haze, part ice crystals mixed with snow, and it shimmers and is gone as the sun climbs over the distant ridge, as if it is something secret that cannot bear to be looked at.
The drugs made her sick, but then she slept. I am looking down into a bowl of a valley that is called Satan's Kingdom. I don't know how it got it's name. Turkey flock in the field, 3 toms shaking their fans. Deer in with the horses, looking ragged. Life and death, aching beauty. Time is a snowflake in the air. I will come back to this later. It demands too much from me now.

Monday, February 28, 2011

What Remains

The back of the canvas has 2005 as a start date. I think I remember some of it's initial elements because I often start a painting the same way, by blocking out shapes that suggest a landscape, a space, but it's only glimpses in my mind's eye of working on some detail or other. I know I blocked it out in the colours that returned, in the end, after many changes in key and temperature. Many of my paintings seem to favor a corner or edge of the field and are loose and light in the opposite, as if the paint is motes shaken from a blanket and caught on a breeze. I imagine the space in front of the canvas to have a physical weight, and the colours must carry themselves to fill in the spaces.
My life was in turmoil for a few years and this painting suffered. I did not know my own mind, and so was in doubt about the painting too. My hand, my brush, is a barometer and when it registers chaos so does the canvas. The worst cannot be turned into a composition no matter how diligent I am.

I have come to think of my paintings as a modern version of The Book of Hours, those Mediaeval bejeweled devotional books the nobility commissioned to mark the seasons both agriculturally and religiously. Not precious or noble mine, but belabored-over calendars of the past, an almanac of situations in reverse. What remains after I have obsessed over the canvas is a kernel of truth about the circumstances encompassing it's existence. It is how I understand the things that I experience.