Boundaries and Witness
Updated: Oct 10
Witnesses to Darkness
Witness 1-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
Witness 2-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
I have an exhibition at The Dalles Art Center that opens in October. For this exhibition I created 12 charcoal drawings in response to the masks of Bill Rutherford. Bill is my friend, and it has been an honor to know this flinty and deeply sensitive soul in the two years I have lived in Eugene, Oregon. For whatever reason, there are places in Bill’s creative landscape and psyche that resonate and overlap within my own, and I recognize Bill Rutherford as a teacher and guide in my life.
Witness 3-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
Witness 4-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
My original intention for the work in this exhibition was to deepen my commitment and arguments to the ecological concerns that have been the focus of my work for three years now. I had wanted to explore that boundary place between the human animal and the natural world, in clay and paint and in the things that brought me joy as an artist. In asking Bill to participate in this exhibition with me, I felt he could address that anima/animus relationship through his masks far more effectively, and I could let the animals speak alone in my work.
Witness 5-charcoal on paper, 22"x29", 2020
Witness 6-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
Because of that shared inner landscape, I found it hard to stay within that animal realm and still have the shape of my response make sense. I find when I am responding to Bill’s work (this is not the first time I have created work in conversation with Bill), it is that deep time and darkness I am hearing. I wrestled with a number of approaches, even creating a series of plein air works that addressed the issue of deep time by exploring that response to light in landscape, in an effort to lift the audience. But I found the light too bright for these ideas and for this time. I wanted to shelter in deep time, I didn’t want to ignore that darkness. I wanted to add my music to Bill’s darkness, and not simply be another ego in a collection of egos gathered in an empty room. If we are called from those deep places by forces and entities that speak across the depth of time, they are better answered in silence and not chatter.
Witness 7-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
Witness 8-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
So, I walked in step with Bill and created masks. My response to Bill’s dark heart. Masks have a vitality that surprised me, and I found a welcome hand in choosing this form. That we contend with darkness in this life in the early 21st century is a difficult fact that most of us spend an inordinate amount of time alleviating with a digital pacifier. Bill’s own history of serving agents of our collective destruction during the height of the cold war is alone testament to that darkness. This exhibition was delayed because of Covid-19, a world wide pandemic, March has become late September, and I am not the same human being I was when quarantine was first ordered.
Witness 9-charcoal on paper, 22"x29", 2020
Witness 10-22"x29", charcoal on paper, 2020
In that boundary line between light and dark we all make choices that influence the currents that move our lives. That river of life contains dark and cold channels. As a species, we have made weapons that can turn the only known habitable world into a hellish waste of glass and sand. This is the boundary line on which I have created my masks. Witnesses to darkness.
Witness 11-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
Witness 12-charcoal on paper, 22"x29" 2020
This exhibition will run from October 1st to November 21st at The Dalles Art Center. It features the work of Anne Bujold, Carolyn Hopkins, Rachel Deny, Bill Rutherford, and of course, myself.
The Dalles Art Center
220 E 4th St
The Dalles, OR 97058
Tues - Sat
11am - 5pm
Christopher St. John