Roadside Attractions

The drawing below was an accident. It was made at a time in the night when fatigue overtakes the body and mind. What started as a drawing of a walnut began to look like something else. Later a background was created and a note about a 2:30pm appointment was retained. This experience of happy or curious accidents building upon each other reminded me of travels where curious monuments and markers appear. While I might forget most of the details of a trip, I would not forget a strange door that leads directly into a mountain.

After walking around the village in Poland, where I live, I could spot a few examples of unusual landmarks. The first image, while not very peculiar in Poland, looked strange to me. It is a man-made nest for Storks. This is part of a strategy in Europe to protect the species.

The second image, seen below, appears to be an abandoned swimming pool. Because of age (likely built during communism) and disrepair, a range of color is revealed. However, I can’t help but wonder what it was like when it was in perfect working order.

With much planning for a sense of sublime order, we ought to feel grateful for the oddities we find. Without such contrasts we might be stuck in a sublime sense of sameness (i.e. happiness in a world of perceived order). However, this mindset remains an illusion.

Discovery: From Architecture to Printmaking to Vector Graphics

When I was eleven years old, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I was attracted to building, materials, and the feeling of being in a place. However, I did not know what an architect did aside from make plans. Although, I lost the desire to be an architect, I still feel connected to the feeling that architecture evokes. I am aware how these shapes, ornament, and colors help form my perspective.

A building can hold and reveal stories and is a place to look out of and through. In the example above, I continue to examine Italian Rennaisance architecture. Here I fashioned a drawing after a domed building inspired by Andrea Palladion. While I am merely interpreting or making a derivative version of a building, I am also aware that art reveals more than one subject, and the inescapable subject is the medium itself. For example the act of painting always reveals the language and construction of painting. I realize now that I am also attracted to the structure and planning of architecture and perhaps this is what led me to study printmaking. Although different discipline, making prints required step by step planning and an exacting sensibility a kin to the architectural process.

While I have gained great pleasure from making prints and it has been an important component of my art, the means of its production has proven more and more ineffective when compared with digital rivals that tap into the same esthetic. Without a studio I can use vector graphics to prepare a range of marks equivalent to what I would have previously carved for a relief print. I can make blocks of color similar to the stencils made for screen printing. I can even use bitmap in photoshop to approximate touche washes used in lithography. Additionally, with a digital illustration, I have the freedom to test and make adjustments with less effort.

Because vector illustration can approximate printmaking, does this mean that myself or others should quit making prints? Probably not. However, it becomes increasingly apparent that one’s process may outlive its usefulness. This is worth investigating in much the same way we ought to consider the value of razing an old building to replace it with something new. Sometimes we have regrets and at other times the new results are an improvement.

Driven to Distraction

Because I lack expert knowledge about pandemics, like the one the world is currently faceing, I felt it more useful to write about something else. Perhaps metaphors could be found here. However, my main intent is examine and reconcile competing demands.

As I have been focused on fatherhood and a new job, my artistic output has dwindled. In fact, I thought I was facing an artistic death. This would be a minor tragedy in relationship to a literal death. Additionally, while pre-occupied with more basic responsibilities, travel has seemed more of a luxury. I am currently living in Warsaw Poland, and one of my more modest goals is to visit the city of Zamość. It is described as an ‘ideal example of a Renaissance town’.

For now any travel has been postponed. However, after mentioning my desire to spend a day in Zamosc, I was gifted a book about Italian Renaissance architecture (the Renaisance represented a rebirth). I started making drawings inspired by this architecture. So far, all that I could complete was an image of a doorway.

Renaissance Door
Renaissance Door

While creating an image of this door is a start, I imagine being at this threshold viewing a city. It is my hope to eventually see Zamość and perhaps more drawings will emerge after revisiting the Renaissance.

Unexpected Awe

Advances in travel and comunication may make the world seem small. However, every once in a while one is in awe of a place larger than one could imagine. I had this experience as a child when I saw the swimming pool at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City, New Jersey. The pool was so impressive that I found it both facinating and a bit frightening. In my child’s mind I thought, who would build their own ocean and how could someone get to the middle without drowning.

It was hard to imagine being struck by such a similar feeling as an adult. However, while on a train from the Polish city of Gdańsk to the town of Sopot, I saw building larger than my conception could accept. I later read online that such a building may have up to 6000 people living it. To be living in the middle of it seems simultaneously intruiging and overwhelming.

Image of the building found on google maps.

Along with the fleeting feeling of being impressed by the enormity of the building, there was an experience of being on a train and on a trip to the sea. I created a drawing in an attempt to document this memory. In the drawing below the autumn day, the building, and the journey to sea become locked together.

En route to Sopot, Watercolor & Ink, 41cm x 13cm (15″ x 5″)

It is easy to realize that the two places described, the pool and the building, are small compared to oceans, planets, and the wider universe. However, size is relational and our thoughts are expansive. With reflection the cracks and corners of our existance may yield wider vistas. Description and a creative perspective provides ways to unfold an endless stream of details and reinvent a sense of wonder.

En route to Sopot (Detail)

The Known Unknown

When we say a name we associate it with a person and accept it. The name fits the person and the person fits the name. However, when I investigated the namesake of my son Simon, I found surprising details. I knew there was an apostle named Simon. However, little is known about him. Additionally, the apostle Peter is referred to as Simon Peter and I also found a reference to Jesus having a brother Simon. When I began to see depictions of Saint Simon (also referred to as Simeon) it was not often the apostle, rather it was a Simon born later. This Simon, presumably named after the apostle, was an ascetic that spent much of his time on a pillar. I also found there were two Saint Simons who inhabited a pillar (Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder and the Younger). In paintings and illustrations sometimes the pillar appears as a column and other times as a tower. In Aleppo, Syria Simon’s stone ‘pillar’ is a site to see, and a round stone has been placed on top of it. However, what originally inspired my investigation was a calendar image depicting Saint Simeon Stylites.

Above is an image of the calendar where I found Saint Simon. Below is the page where Simon can be seen depicted on top of his pillar.

Św. Szymon Słupnik (en. Saint Simeon Stylites),
Belarussian icon, end 18th century, tempera on board,
Orthodox church in Milejczyce, Poland.

Upon translating the text on the calendar, I found that the image was originally published in a book of 300 icon images titled Ikony w Polsce. Od średniowiecza do współczesności by Micha ła Janochy. All the icons were found in Poland. Although I learned more about Saint Simon, my investigation is just beginning.