North, East, South, & West Hand
These paper mache wall hangings are faced with patterned papers from
bazaars in Karachi, Pakistan where I visited last January.
Magnetically attached are sea charts salvaged from their ship
breaking yards. These I have mapped over with graphite drawings
of a surprising desert blossom discovered on an inland hike.
As the form of the flower skims the perimeter of the islands
and navigational lines, so our hands register our experience,
our endeavors and even influence our choices, our skills and
our reception by others. They are our primary interactive
tools. Sculpturally they have embodied grace and sacriment,
warning and welcome.
The drawings, like the hands, are alike but not the same; variations
on a theme. Their interchangeability symbolizes options and choice.
For me survival entails daring, will and endurance. Travel tests
our ability to handle the unknown. Then again, it is said, that
we only see what we recognize. The exotic is a draw just outside ourselves.
It is a scary honor to have the opportunity to present in New York work
I made this January in Pakistan during a residency near the ship wrecking
beaches of Gadani, Baluchistan. The imagery was derived from a gothic-style
planter in my parent's Westchester garden of which I had brought photos to
initiate my own investigation of materials in a foreign land. I had wanted
to make mixed-media paintings with local patterns and reflective surfaces.
In that landscape and situation, the planters became talismanesque lion guardians
as we artists remained under armed protection and curfew in the tribally
jurisdictioned desert by the Arabian sea.
In our current crisis, these timeless faces become more complicated and
important. The links of chain which allude to their nautical provenance
also imply our positioning on this planet, inescapably connected and
inter-dependent. The charm bracelet formation of this seasonally
titled "hobgoblin" series further ennunciaties the historical and
symbolic habit of souvenir adornment as a metaphor for artistic process
and influence. Our experiences and exposures build and become an
increasingly intricate balance of identity and meaning, subjectivity and exposure.
The installation is meant to reflect layers of conscious and imaginary
experiance as well as travel and inspiration through cultures and eras.
These small paintings which I returned with in my suitcase first became
sculptures in an exhibit this May in Los Angeles, where I hung them as
large necklaces on the mannequins in a boutique. Here I have woven them
together, integrating the pencil-drawn with the collected, the gifted;
bought and borrowed, accumulated from Upstate New York, Karachi bazaars,
Maple Avenue in Los Angeles and Canal Street here in NYC.
The Pothole Series, c-prints,1999-2000, pairs a phenomenon of nature: a
giant blossom, the reflection of clouds in a pothole; with a figure. The figure
represents the traditional icon of the female. Here she is associated
symbolically with nature (mystery, fertility and beauty) and ideologically with the
artist, as creator, worker, witness, organizer, architect and even magician or
alchemist. Ambiguities of male/female, sorcerer/dunce, finished/unfinished and
The dyptichs are arranged to scale the primary colors in monochromes
interspersed with secondary accent props of green fields, purple scarves and
orange hats. A pictorical quote after Edward Steichen centerpieces the series.
The image, reframed and colorized, derives from the very same Mamaroneck,
New York woods I ran around in nearly a century later. This reference allows
me to acknowledge my predecessors and to reveal the continuity of experience,
temporal transcendence and persistence of sensibility.
The group of five composite photographs is book ended by two shots of
different skies reflected in the same pothole. As in the Buddhist philosophy of
the lotus blooming out of the mud, the heavens are seen on the ground, the
sublime in the basic, visionary, fleeting, engendered by the decomposition of
matter; reseen and re-presented.
This is perspective and chance. Luck. Magic. Audience, heroism, figure
versus landscape, awe and silence are some of the themes I tried to encompass
in these couplets, also, reflection as a metaphor for memory and its properties of
reversal, cycle and illusion. The hats serve to bring these images away from the
snapshot. To reveal the purposeful code wherein the broom is a conjuring stick
and a paintbrush that clears the path for viewing fresh ideas and for passage.
The flowers pictured, it should be noted, are the wild digitalis or foxglove, and
the corpse flower, or Sumatran Arum that blooms but once every hundred years,
and only in the company of another.
These five "necklace paintings" started this Winter while I was participating in an
international artists residency in Pakistan. We were in the desert West of
Karachi in a remote area on the South coast used for stripping out ocean liners.
I wanted to use the time to get back into painting, after spending a year printing
color photography. I'd imported photos of my parents' garden on the Hudson
River back in New York State, which had a catalystic correspondence to the
natural beauty, mystery and symbolism of my new surroundings. I left with a
suitcase full of small works on paper encrusted with the atmosphere: rugged,
bleached and windswept; and with momentos from the congested markets: fruit-
colored plastic bicycles, small tinted mirrors, earring findings and blue sequins.
Since returning to Los Angeles, I have chained and further bejeweled the works
with local materials. They've become large necklaces.
A huge satisfaction was recognized via the landscape itself, familiar to me
through traditional miniature painting yet clouded by the interpretations of
armchair art historians. Theorists claim that the conventions of perspective in
that genre were narrative contrivances instead of accurate depictions of the
kooky convoluted, mauve-pink rock formations that do actually crash into the
beautiful blue Arabian sea. These crystal-sprinkled rocks do steeply rise and
then snake their way into the open desert, dotted with sinewy acacias, a camel,
a leading man or two, and flagged sufi shrines nestled in the crevices like
captured birds. A fiction materialized by presence alone, a validation of direct
experience, an underscoring of artistic license and a victory for visual language.
I was also shocked and impressed by our tribally conscripted armed guards.
Baluchistani customs revealed the cultural distance that I had traveled and at the
same time echoed the vulnerability of all of us, wherever we live. In reaction,
little gold plastic guns from the bazaar found their way onto the patterned papers
I had sandwiched into the ground of my own particular vasl for my images. Vasl
is the ground miniature painters prepare by layering papers and burnishing
The multi-national composition of the participants further emphasized the
journey-nature of the residency. Hearing about the political and moral
restrictions placed on artists in other lands during our talks, and receiving the
response to the work I presented from Los Angeles, helped me to clarify my own
artistic motivations and methods. Issues of appropriation, inspiration and motif,
interpretation and the social dynamics of these cross-cultural fertilizations
became more complex and specific.
-- Laura Paddock