ANIMAL VILLAGE: B L INDS POT S (6’ x 8’), hand-gathered and ground pigments from oregon, nevada and utah, plus gold leaf, mined pigments (nicosia green, colorado pink pipe clay, and italian yellow earth) and petrochemical pigments (leaf green, rose pink, seafoam blue) on reclaimed plywood.
I found myself in a place in the Oregon desert with houses of hollowed out boulders, rocks that had somehow been dissolved on the inside so that they looked like rounded houses with entrances. Not just one or two houses, but many, all sizes. Some were perfect for human people, and showed what I thought might be signs of cook fires on their blackened ceilings. Others were small, for, I thought, other animal people, not humans. Some were tiny with just a coin-sized hole for a door.
I looked this place up later, and my heart jumped when I found an answer: a single reference to the place being known as Animal Village by the Northern Paiute people, who lived around there for thousands of years before white settlers. Animal Village because, the reference said, “of the abundance of plant and animal life that is found there.” But I thought, no, it’s because of the village that’s there. The Village of the Animals.
I went back and made sketches of the houses. Animal Village. Animal Village! I chanted as I drew. I went home and started grinding paint, colors I had been gathering for years but had been too afraid to use much. Eight or nine colors, from eight or nine different places in the desert: three greens, purple, pinkish-red, red ochre, yellow ochre, pale pink. Orange. When the painting was done I sat and looked at it. Animal Village? Really?
So I called the Warm Springs Museum in Madras. I asked, does anyone know about Animal Village? Four people came on the phone. Finally, I spoke to Dallas Winnishut. He said, call Wilson Wewa Jr. at the senior center. He’s a Northern Paiute elder and the place you’re asking about is their place.
Yes, said Wilson Wewa Jr. when I called. That whole place there is Animal Village. That’s what we call it, because that’s where the animal people lived in the time before the human people. The bighorn sheep, and the muskrat, and the deer and the bear and the beaver — they all lived there. You can see Grandmother Bighorn Sheep with her rabbit skin blanket up on the ridge if you look, and lots of other animal people.
I said, do you know about any hollowed-out rocks? That look like houses? Well, there’s one there when you go up the main trail, he said. A big boulder with a hole in it. I said, well, I’m thinking on the other side of the river, down the trail, where there are lots of hollowed-out boulders that look like houses. Yes, he said. Those are the animal people’s houses. That’s their village.
I didn’t ask any more questions about that. He told me I could read more about it in his new book, Legends of the Northern Paiute. I could get it on Amazon if I wanted. I asked him, how do you feel about a descendant of white settlers gathering pigments and using them? He told me, if it feels right, then it’s right. If it feels wrong, then it’s wrong. You listen to how it feels. I gather lots of different pigments — yellow and purple and white and red. I go out there in the east and gather a special white pigment. But then there’s a mine out there nearby that mines that pigment and that’s just wrong.
I asked, do you make paintings with your pigments? He said, no, I use them for ceremony. I don’t know about painting. I don’t know about that.
This is a painting of Animal Village made from paint gathered near Animal Village and far from it, but in connected desert. The overlaid color spots are different ways of rendering the colors of the land, and also a language for different ways of valuing it: as a potential source of gold, or other colored pigments to mine, or as a container for an imagined decorative landscape constructed with petrochemical pigments.
After painting the large ANIMAL VILLAGE: B LINDS POT S, I made four small studies of the image, using pigments with different sources for each. Clockwise, the materials are as follows: 1. hand-gathered and ground pigments, 2. petrochemical pigments. 3. plant pigments plus egyptian blue, made from crushed blue glass, 4. mined mineral pigments.
G R IE FUN T ANGLE M E N T (Grief Untanglement) 6ft x 3.5 ft plus objects; cadmium red gouache, plant and mineral pigments on reclaimed wooden object of indeterminate use. river driftwood and riverbank found objects. pigments include: walnut ink, indigo, gamboge, nicosia green, zinc white, azurite, dioptase, yellow ochre, blue ridge ochre, colorado pink pipe clay. Objects pictured returned to the site where they were found. July, 2018
Wilderness is new. Before it, the constantly human-tended world was a garden formed by long-lasting relationships. Common now is to see only the beauty that human culture robs from the land through mechanic consumption, but human absence, the hole left by our diminishing presence there, is a greater theft. What’s left outside in the tangle? Can the disappointments of neglect be reimagined as beauty?
W H OARETHESEWO O D S, 8 x 8 feet; china markers plus plant and mineral pigments on oak plywood. pigments include: walnut ink, madder, indigo, gamboge, nicosia green, pink colorado pipe clay, italian green earth, yellow ochre, red ochre, dioptase, azurite, zinc, titanium. April, 2017
I came to the woods for mystery, hungry for the indifference of shady canopies, seeking flat wide leaves to press my palm soft against, wanting the tilt of hills to tip me back into the sky. I came wanting to prove that other animals do talk to me, that (as in the picture books) there’s one and there’s one and there’s another, smiling through their fur with their eyes and their faces turned to me. But now I’m here, I can’t help it, it’s compulsive: I’m looking for human signs between the leaves, and I find them. A nail in a thin tree trunk, the tiny torn edge of a wrapper in the mud. My vision devours these fragments, reading them like unguarded faces I can stare at, digging in for meaning. The animal forms around me flit past — dim blurs seen in retreat, if I’m lucky.
Untitled, I & II; reclaimed wood, yellow ochre, titanium white, mayan blue (I), pink pipe clay, dioptase, gamboge (II), gum arabic, honey, clove oil. February 2017.
This series represents a search for a way to render other-than-human animals both as themselves and as we, humans, perceive them: vague, concealed, or misinterpreted.
Squirrels; cardboard, riebeckite, titanium white; 8" x 7", March 2017.
These are studies for a project which involves observing a specific Western Grey Squirrel in a semi-wild urban area on the banks of the Willamette River in Eugene, Oregon. The area is one where winter storms have created many downed and split big-leaf maples and cottonwoods, providing the ideal bright and splintered surfaces on which to reproduce the image of the squirrel using vine black, zinc white and mayan blue (non-toxic natural pigments that dissolve easily). The pigments would be mixed with water alone (no binding glue) so that they would gradually be erased by the rainfall. The Western Grey Squirrel belongs to a threatened species which coexists with introduced Eastern Grey Squirrels. The distinctively blue-grey tails of the squirrels appear almost like plumes of smoke. Permission to render the squirrels on the downed trees has not yet been granted by the parks service.
Winter Flood; cross section of elm, titanium white, gold leaf, colorado pink pipe clay, dioptase, gamboge, maya blue, violet hematite, yellow ochre, rose madder, gum arabic, honey, & clove oil. December, 2016. 87" x 36" x11" (at base).
Seeking collaboration with this incredible piece of wood (which was given to me by Urban Lumber, an organization in Springfield, Oregon which salvages trees that fall or are removed from public city locations), I found an image of the flood which was currently raging in the Willamette river, not far from my studio. I coaxed it out with subtle suggestions, highlighting marks that were for the most part already there.
Winter Flood (verso); elm cross-section, gold leaf, green earth, yellow ochre, titanium white, gamboge, dioptase, colorado pink pipe clay, found objects. January 2017.
On this side, I juxtaposed the figure inherent in the wood with a self portrait and looked for a way to integrate objects found on the banks of the river after the flood water receded (a shoe sole, a squishy water toy, fallen lichen, stones) into the bodies of both, either literally or symbolically.
Banks of the Willamette River, abandoned sock, fallen alder branch, titanium white, orange oxide, dioptase, vine black, rose madder. Oregon, early December, 2015. (scroll down for image details)
Lake Champlain Shore, fish skeleton, bird guano, titanium white. Vermont, late Summer, 2015. (scroll down for image details)
Painting bundle: found driftwood, big leaf maple burl section, paper, natural pigments. Size of a dashboard display. Oregon, early summer, 2015. (scroll down for image details)
Turkey Creek dry wash, vine black; Arizona, mid winter, 2015.(scroll down for image details )
Turkey Creek dry creek bed, fallen scrub oak leaves, green earth, maya blue, zinc, gamboge, rose madder. Arizona, mid winter, 2015. (scroll down for image details)
Lake Ontario shore, dead long-tailed duck, birch charcoal. Ontario, winter, 2014. (scroll down for image details)
Lake Ontario shore, found objects. Ontario, winter, 2014. (scroll down for image details)