Rock Paintings: Pictures Objects Metaphors Symbols
March 6 – April 5, 2013
This time of year along the coastline of southern New England is one of stark and rugged beauty. The days are getting longer and the sun is perceptibly higher in the sky than it was only 6 weeks ago. Even so, many days are gray, the weeks punctuated now and again with the unexpected gift of a glittering blue sky. It has also been a much colder winter than in recent years, with snowfalls coming in like clockwork to settle upon us, blanketing everything with a clean layer of paper white.
Snow has the ability both to soften the sounds of footsteps yet reveal them to everyone that follows behind. That it also hides things is clearly evident, but it can expose the deep space of a wooded landscape impenetrable in summer, the rhythm of trees aligned along a roadway, and reminds us of the incongruities of the snowy edge of a coastal shoreline.
Because there is less to distract us, more can be discovered, if we would only look closer. Both Joan Backes' Home Constructions and Todd Moore's Rock Paintings work on us in some of the same ways.
Joan builds house-shaped structures out of a variety of materials, some minimally elegant and others, highly textured and tactile. The simplicity of the form, the balance of perfectly harmonious proportions, is the welcome sign to our experience. They are linear, empty yet full, each detail carefully considered.
Todd takes us to the shoreline, a place both timeless yet in a continuous state of flux. His paintings and drawings are both contextual and yet without reference to scale. The timelessness of place, the constant sifting and tumbling of boulders, stones, and water remind us of the cyclical nature of things.
My work addresses issues of nature in contemporary society. My work for this exhibition is concerned with my three-dimensional house forms. I received my MFA in painting at Northwestern University. Since 2000 my paintings have focused on the bark of trees. These paintings are named for their geographical location where types of tree species are repeated internationally.
For seven years I have been working with the house form. My paternal grandfather was an architect. When I was a little girl I remember my mother and my grandfather looking at his blueprints while sitting at the kitchen table. They were planning the house that he was designing for our family of four children.
Many of my houses have been about nature: Paper House is an homage to the tree; Newspaper House is about many species and the affect on them in the age of global warming; Cardboard House has four videos, each about a subject relating to nature and our impact upon it.
The houses here are purposely open and minimal. My hope is that we can all relate to the house form. To me it brings up the subject of home and one question is: Where is home for all species? When I think about home, I believe that home, where we begin and spend the most formative years of our lives, might just be about our deepest identity.
Paintings are many things.
These are landscapes. They are pictures of forms in the world. They are images composed while viewing the debris from glaciers that litter the intertidal zone between the land and the sea in New England. They are constructions based on those compositions.
The paintings of these views are objects with physical and colored surfaces. The ink drawings are without color and suggest a surface that is in reality an absence of material. They are all documents, records of experience. Seen collectively they become (auto) biographical and can be given a place in time and a location in space. Chronologically, the paintings bookend the black and white ink drawings.
The activity of their making and the references they point to can also be metaphors for a concrete physicality that is simultaneously obdurate and in flux. The rocks are massive yet fractured, as old as the earth but in a constant circumstance of wear and erosion.
As simulacra (I'm using that term at its simplest, but also with a nod to Baudrillard) made of fabric and paint or paper and ink the pictures are fragile. They will fade, crack, rot, and eventually disappear, all in a geological nanosecond compared to those clusters of granite and puddingstone resting in the light at the end of the day. "Resting" is the sense, as they are in motion, though at a pace that is too deliberate and inevitable for our flitting senses.
Metaphor describes by analogy. Something difficult to comprehend can be described by a reference to something more familiar or tangible. Painting, art making, can operate at any location on this path of associations of thought, emotion, sensation, and experience.
These references conjure up symbolic suggestions as well. Most image making does, of course, though a symbol is by its nature more abstract, open to interpretation, and resistant to definition.
At best, perhaps these things end as they begin, as qualia, which I'd loosely define as the ephemeral and tickling, but certain, sensations of the ineffable. It's the barely audible whisper, a suggestion of a scent, a memory hovering below the threshold of specific knowledge, but a tremor of full apprehension and comprehension nonetheless.
Joan Backes received her MFA in Painting from Northwestern University, Department of Art Theory and Practice. She received an MA in Painting at the University of Missouri. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.
Since 2000 her paintings have focused on trees and on the effects of over-development. Her installations focus on the house as image and symbol, and often incorporate site-specific materials. Backes' Carpet of Leaves often use over 1000 leaves in each installation, bringing the outside in to the gallery or museum.
Permanent installations of her work include Internationales Waldkunst Odenwald Forest, Darmstadt, Germany; Berlin/Grunewald, Berlin, Germany; Linnaean Garden, Uppsala, Sweden; Silpakorn University Art Atrium, Bangkok, Thailand; and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Canada.
Backes has taught at Brown University, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Maine College of Art Graduate Program, Rhode Island School of Design, The Kansas City Art Institute, and Northwestern University.
Todd Moore lives and works in Rhode Island. He holds an MFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence and a BA from The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington.
Since 2007 he is a Professor of Foundation Studies, Rhode Island School of Design. His work is held in collections as diverse as Nordstrom, Inc., Seattle, Washington; Edwards and Angell, Attorneys, Boston, MA; American Republic Insurance Company, St. Louis, Missouri; Hillhaven Corporation, Tacoma, WA; and Princess House Corporation, Taunton, MA (mural); along with numerous private collections around the country.
Recent exhibitions include Faculty Biennial, RISD Museum, Providence, RI; Ocean States; Hamilton Gallery, Salve Regina University, Newport, RI; On Nature,Chazan Gallery at Wheeler, Providence, RI; Todd Moore - Rock Paintings, RisdWorks, Providence, RI; James Hall Fine Art & Design Show, Woods-Gerry Gallery, Providence, RI; and Bristol Art Museum 50th Anniversary Exhibition, Bristol, RI.