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  • Writer's pictureArthur Bruso


Enrico Gomez | Emmy Mikelson | Kirsten Nash


The Map

Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.

Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges

showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges

where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.

Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,

drawing it unperturbed around itself?

Along the fine tan sandy shelf

is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.

Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo

has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,

under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,

or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.

The names of seashore towns run out to sea,

the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains

—the printer here experiencing the same excitement

as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.

These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger

like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,

lending the land their waves’ own conformation:

and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,

profiles investigate the sea, where land is.

Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?

—What suits the character or the native waters best.

Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.

More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.

WHERE WE ARE is a basic concern of all humans. Our awareness of place probably stems from our need for self-preservation. An awareness of our surroundings and what may be lurking in them keeps the lion at bay and we get to live another day. The first artistic and magical symbols that ancient humans conceived of and drew were the line, the cross, and the grid.

The line is the way we describe our path of movement. It is a record of where we have gone or are going, from here to there. It also demarks our position in the landscape. The line is the horizon, above is the air, below is the Earth. The cross is an abstraction of the cardinal points: north, south, east, and west. It divides and orders space. Wherever we are, we are the center and from us space moves outward on all sides. The cross becomes the stability and regularity of the number 4: the seasons, the elements (fire, water, earth, air) and the winds. The grid is the idea of being static, of stillness and solidity. It depicts our idea of connected community; the created (what I have built) as opposed to the uncreated (the spirit). The grid is grounded in the process of manifestation. Through these basic symbols, humans began to define themselves and their place in the world. They began to understand where was here and safe, and where was there and danger.

Now we have maps, radar tracking, and global positioning by satellite (GPS). As long as we carry our mobile phone, we can track and find someone, or be found regardless of our feelings on the matter. Still, they all use the same symbols: the line, the cross, and the grid.

Curious Matter has brought together three artists: Enrico Gomez, Emmy Mikelson, and Kirsten Nash who each have based their ideas on location and geography. Each are looking at the earth and trying to define what is place, where is here, and what are we doing with it.

painting with green diagional stripes superimposed with an orange arrow inside an orange circle
ENRICO GOMEZ, American Sunsets • Edelweiss : Southernmost • Ka Lae, Hawaii, Chrysoprase, Tiwaz, 2019, acrylic, watercolor, water soluble pencil, marble dust on paper, 11.75 x 9.75 x 1 inches

Enrico Gomez has taken his interest in the occult and of ecology and fused the two into his paintings. Layering three different images on top of one another, so that each image can be read between the alternating lines – the line of movement – Gomez superimposes the landscape image and an image of a runic symbol: Tiwaz (warrior), Dagaz (daybreak), Eihwaz (transition), Algiz (protection). Each of these symbols and their attributes adds their layered meaning to the image, while the linear composition adds a progressive movement of a Kenneth Noland stripe painting or the visual vitality of Lukas Samaras’ sewn fabric collages. These images become incantations or evocations to ecology, nature, and to ourselves, that we may treat our planet with greater care and understanding.

Large grey plane superimposed over a photograph water
EMMY MIKELSON, River Scintillation, 2016, mixed media on paper (digital photograph and oil – photo taken at Adolpho Ducke Rainforest Reserve, Manaus, Brazil) 17 x 30 inches

Emmy Mikelson uses a labor-intensive method of painting, wiping and painting again to build the transparent planes of color on her digital images. This not only creates the subtle layering of transparencies that activate her luscious, lustrous surfaces, like Robert Delaunay’s Orphism paintings, they create structured planes in her anonymous landscape photographs. The base photographic image may be an image from the Brazilian rain forest, such as River Scintillation, but the identity of the location becomes secondary to the layered grid she has painted over it. The gray planes activate the surface and create a regulated visual movement that imposes itself over the watery surface of the river. The water wants to ripple and shimmer, while the painted grid-like structure wants to hold it firm. This sets up a tension between the natural and the human-made, between nature and wildness and construction and civilization. The where is not as important to Mikelson as the here. What is imposed on the landscape must be controlled and must work with the landscape. We must keep the underlying naturalness of the world if we are to impose anything upon it.

In works like Nutrient Bath no. 4, Milkelson is interested in the evolution of life from the primordial pond. Here again she creates a structured environment of circles and lines, the inanimate building blocks of molecules and their attractions. Layered like a Doug and Mike Starn transparency construction, she builds the structure that supports the emerging textured form coming into being in the lower right. Its skull-like shape alludes to what could possibly be the endgame for this new emerging entity. Like River Scintillation, there is an imposed structure of circles and lines, but the emergence of the furry beast sets off not only the visual interest, but an alarm to the world. How will this new form effect the whole?

Square painting with multicolored marks thoughout
KIRSTEN NASH, Parties Aren’t Meant to Last, 2019, oil and pencil on linen, 60 x 56 inches

Kirsten Nash is also enamored of the grid and the line. Her interest in the linear composition of Agnes Martin is evident in her series of paintings of empty parking lots. It is not the people of a civilization that interests Nash, but how that civilization imposes itself on the landscape. In a work like The Flood, she finds the geometric structure of the surface of water. Like Mikelson, Nash wants to impose a regularity upon a random, natural surface.

Nash also has an affinity with Chuck Close. In her painting Parties Aren’t Meant to Last, Nash starts with a pencil grid on the canvas, but then like Close, she finds the interest in each cell of the grid. By painting a color and shape in each square, Nash simultaneously keeps the underlying structure of the square, while erasing it too. What we become aware of is the erratic, jumpy movement our eyes make as we look for associations among the colors and shapes. Nash has created her own visual city, an imposed grid that has been built upon and inhabited by her color and shapes. It teems with the predicable, yet chaotic movements of a population of people. Nash has accepted that humans have imposed their structures upon the natural landscape. She celebrates it and finds comfort in its squared off uniformity.

Each of the artists in “Where is Here” are interested in the idea of place. Each of them is imposing something on the landscape. Gomez wants us to honor the naturalness, and spiritual identity of the land. Mikelson holds the middle ground between naturalness and human intervention – we should strive to work with the land as we build. Nash is more accepting of our interference and finds a sort of comfort with how we have constructed our place in it. These are not conflicting ideologies. As stewards of our planet, we have to consider all of these aspects. We are here and we have made our mark. What must we do now and in the future to keep the only place we have to live viable and healthy? What brings us comfort and still allows us to live compatibly with the other creatures that inhabit this Earth. As we forge these new means of living, we will create a new concept of “here.”

© 2022 Curious Matter used with permission

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