Biota is a succinct word that describes what I try to capture in a lot of my work. It is the plant and animal life of a particular region or period – from the Greek biote meaning way of life, or bios, meaning life.
Life changed quite a bit for me when, in late 2016, I took a job. I hadn’t had a full-time position in 22 years, and found myself busier than ever, with plenty of ideas for art and shows scheduled. I was determined to be a full-time artist and work too. I started drawing during my breaks at the office.
I had been missing paper and pencil, and was contemplating making work with less color. I ended up tracing old botanical drawings I had done in a sketchbook and playing with variations of them. These were immensely satisfying because they weren’t identical, but had the visual alliteration I was looking for. The replication was soothing, and they went quickly. Some were traced lightly, some heavily with charcoal. When done, they could be further edited, put into paintings backward or upside-down, buried under wax or burnished over the top of color and other details. Thousands of possibilities were before me. I layered and encased them inside the wax, like a bug in amber.
Actually, the Velocity Series was inspired by a small bug - a planthopper found only on English ivy. I had read an article about some scientists in the U.K. who had discovered this tiny insect that had evolved a mechanical gear, enabling it to jump extraordinarily fast. A person would be utterly destroyed if catapulted at the same velocity.
My imagination started a slow jog and then it flew. I worked for months with this bug happily perched on a branch in my mind. Many of the paintings began referencing insects. Wings, hives and swarms began to appear, as did both industrial and botanical elements. Others pieces were simply an abstract depiction of the ‘jet wash’ I imagine these bugs left in their wake.
The mechanical gear at the top of its hind legs was apparently the first time a functioning gear had been found in an insect ever, and it fascinated me. Especially interesting was as the bug molted, the gear phased out. Once mature, the bug jumped like every other bug jumps (more friction-based than mechanical). Without the ability to repair itself, the risk of keeping such a feature was simply too great. The gear was basically a mechanism to get it through what I like to think of as adolescence. What a great bit of engineering – what great design!
Design has always borrowed from nature. Usually humans are the ones imitating the marvels of natural beauty and functioning, but this time it seemed the other way around! Then again, perhaps the ‘mechanical gear’ had been in nature all along, but being so young and self-absorbed, we humans consider it our own. In any case, this insect’s special design made its way into my paintings, not in the form of an actual gear per se, but in the form of abstract whirling ‘flower’ gears, wing forms, hives, clusters, rivets, ducts, and imagery with ever so faint a mechanical feel. The industrial elements were far from realistic, but referential, and they began blending with my ongoing themes of botany and biology.
The bug, called the Issus Coleoptratus, was a tiny, perfect mechanical/insect hybrid to me, and I am quite in love with the idea of hybrids. An earlier idea for this show was to paint abstract versions of hybrids. I wanted to blend animal with insect, flower with bug with goat with bloom, dragonfly with tree . . . whatever came about. Instead, I ended up blending with industrial elements, but will certainly continue hybridizing things both animal and mechanical. This blending represents my lifelong belief that we are all the same.
For me it’s absurd to think an animal is much different from a person, or an insect that much different from an orchid. I understand the biological differences between plant and animal cells, but cells are cells, and if a bug can evolve a gear, why couldn’t a flower grow an arm, or a person a petal. It’s the equity of it that makes sense to me. My distain for racial inequity has been lifelong. As a child it made no sense to me, and as an adult I’m still baffled. Why, if we are essentially the same stuff as all other stuff, would we make a distinction as it pertains to race?
To me, hives are homes, eggs are seeds, seeds resemble rivets, metal is metabolic, pipes are veins, concrete is flesh (particularly fascinating is the design of self-repairing concrete), wings are translucency which is water and water is life. People are people. In my art, the soft and the rigid blend to make beauty that is neither male nor female. Humans will soon blend their tissues with gadgets, have chips embedded inside them, utilize those google-glasses (whatever those were), and hopefully grow wings.
Perhaps my next show will feature what I call function-clusters – I think of them like morulas only with a mechanical twist, and hope to execute new work that reflects the complicated nature of nature, cells, hybrids, technology, industrial elements, and of course, my beloved botanical elements.