There was a lamp in my childhood. It stood on the nightstand in one of the bedrooms at the farmhouse. The shade was printed with a nautical chart, the lamp itself was a cylindrical form papered with an antiqued chart delineating an unknown sea. The four winds were represented by anthropomorphic clouds blowing their directions across the seas with big puffed cheeks. It has long since disappeared, as has the farmhouse. The image of the clouds in my memory are a stand in for place and time, markers of the past. I always read the images on the lamp like a story of some far away place, repeated summer after summer, I would tell the story with a glance. The desire to anchor those memories in an image became the foundation and leaping off point for this series.
I began hunting for images of clouds some years ago. None of the images I found gave voice to my memory. Yet the process yielded a wealth of imagery that held my attention in the way that only old lithographs from another time can. They told stories of impending storms and wrecked seas, as well as representing a perception of the human relationship to nature and the sublime. At times they categorized, scientifically and practically. Others images drove the imagination.
I began learning embroidery and cross-stitch 4 years ago. I come from a long line of women who have done hand work but it had not been a part of my life since childhood. Learning to sew and stitch allowed a connection, a thread back though time to the women in my family. What began as small side projects worked slowly into my artistic practice.
Beginning with found images from the web of antique lithographs of clouds I brought the images through Photoshop and then a cross-stitch creator, enlarged and transferred to paper a grid on which to stitch. The process from analog through digital and back to analog rendered a new form, holding the process in evidence. The cross-stitch and the pixel, the lithograph and the photograph, reach back and forth through time and resonate against each other. Just as I, through the act of stitching, reached back through my personal history and formed connections.
The series continues to evolve and my process with it. I began with cross-stitch on paper and after months of slow work found a respite in the immediacy of drawing with my hands in ground charcoal. Drawing has never come easily. I much prefer the mediation of tools: cameras, computers, convoluted strategies. Grinding the vine charcoal in the mortar and pestle, tapping it over the page, developing forethought for where and how much, then the performative act of making the clouds with my fingers, all deeply immediate, intuitive, and irreversible.
The tactile experience offered in drawing pushed the work another direction. The most recent pieces in the series are created from plastic vegetable bags, like one gets at the grocery store. Stripped and ‘stitched’ onto a grid of perforations, the plastic bags become the clouds. They rustle, catch light, step toward three dimensions, and give body to a form that has no more body than condensed moisture. Dipping a toe in yet another art arena, this series has given breath to my desire to allow the work to determine the medium and embrace the fluidity of moving from one making space to another. Incorporating stitching into my artistic practice has deepened my belief that art making should never be bound by medium. Working across disciplines allows for so much cross-pollination of ideas. Allowing the conceptual framework to dictate the medium brings coherence to the making. Now, I think I will make the clouds float, billow, move. All that said, I have most often seen the world through the frame of the camera and the lens and it is where I return over and over.
Simultaneously, I am working on my own Equivalents, in honor of Stieglitz and his series of clouds in which he sought to have people see the photograph as capable of embodying states of being; the image as a vessel of human emotion. In photographing clouds and seeking to portray states of being in the abstract landscape of the sky I find again the resonance of history and lineage that runs through much of this series. Running a thread further though the history of art and the visual element of the cloud, the stitching of famous clouds, Constable’s clouds or the clouds over Mt. St. Victoire seem a destination for future works. Far from completed, Cloud Bank continues to serve as a space of investigation.