Thursday, May 27, 2010


Finally following up on my last blog which suggested exploring alternative ways of representing Maine's landscape or new ways to relate to it, i will here look at a few artists who do the latter. The next blog will be about a couple of young artists who represent landscape quasi-scientifically through multiple approaches.

Jasper Johns said: “Take an object. Do something to it. Then do something else to it.” Transformation as the starting point for art. Two Maine artists who have taken nature as their medium rather than subject are Susan Camp and Dorie Klein. Using intervention as their methodology, they have transformed gourds and snow respectively, for expressive and autobiographical purposes.

Susan Camp grows gourds in constraining molds whereby she completely alters their natural shapes. Some of them become beautiful vessels, hardly recognizable as lowly gourds anymore. Others were grown within molds made of doll parts. Are we looking at a doll's head that has turned vegetable or a gourd that has taken on human form? The push and pull between form and pattern is somewhat unsettling. These doll-shaped gourds open up many avenues of interpretation, from not so subtle sublimation of baby urges to god-like aspirations of new creation. They also remind of mandrake roots' humanoid shape and its magical qualities, however, these days the topic of genetic engineering is more likely to come to our minds.

Dorie Klein is predominantly a photographer but in 1997, to memorialize the death of her mother, she created Snow Bed (for Mum), Marjorie Helen Klein 1920-1997. Out of snow she shaped a bed on which to rest and from which her “mother's spirit melted peacefully into eternity.” Here nature as material assumes monumental significance yet also intensely autobiographical and cathartic dimensions.

Artistic interventions in nature have of course been around for a while. Earthworks of the late 1960s come to mind. Those though were meant to circumvent the commodification of art, were conceptual experiments, and they are tinged with grand-scale egos. The works addressed above, on the other hand, seem personal and nurturing. Yes, nature is being disturbed, but without long-term effect. Other artists living in Maine who use materials taken directly from nature include Barbara Andrus, Asherah Cinnamon, Peigi Cole-Joliffe, and Peter Dellert to name just a few. The boundaries between art and craft, between artists using wood and stone as their material and those mentioned above, is blurry. It is a matter of degree of keeping nature in the foreground and using it for expressive purposes. I believe it worth pointing out these artists' work to give a fuller picture of the range of nature-inspired art produced in this state.