studio summary / vija celmins / claire oswalt / rebecca solnit's 'blue of distance'

This week I have been dividing my time between studio work, exhibition prep and writing for my research portfolio assignment, due next week. I also completed a journal last week and am on to my third of second year so far.

I love the idea that by the end of my degree I will have books filled with my thoughts and ideas from these crucial years...

Something I have been making more time for in the studio is drawing. With the stones I picked up from Castle Beach when making my site specific installations I have been working on some intricate drawings in my sketchbook. 

With my current work the 'making' element happens incredibly quickly - the process-led drawing through frottage is fast, wild and uncontrollable. The photography element is, in a way, controlled; but still a process that is instant, especially when working digitally.

I have been partially inspired by the work of Vija Celmins in the making of these drawings. Celmins is best known for her photo-realistic drawings of phenomena such as the ocean, rocks and clouded skies.

The meticulous attention to detail in her works is something to strive for. The fine detail in the drawings renders the work as elaborately photographic. Something I am often too impatient to achieve in my own work... 

These new drawings have allowed me to focus on slowing down parts of my process - to pay attention to the intricacies of nature and add a new, deeper layer to the visual topographies I am accumulating for my work-making. 

In terms of keeping my natural dye processes afloat whilst I explored other avenues, I left a jar of paper samples soaking in fern leaf dye a few weeks ago. I got distracted by sculpture and forgot about them until late last week. The sediment from the dye resulted in beautiful markings developing on the surface of the paper. 

With these, I plan to make a series of mixed media works; combining frottage, dyed papers, photographs, drawings and potentially some sort of written element too. I have been playing around with compositions and different ways of combining these mediums - thinking about how they can come together to form a comprehensive map of the place they derive from.

In terms of my artist research, alongside Vija Celmins I have been looking at Claire Oswalt, an artist working with collage as a primary medium, but also working with drawing, painting, and sculpture.  

In her minimal, watercolor compositions, Oswalt relies on “the energy behind quick decisions, and the ruthlessness to pare the work down to the essential.”

She seeks to juxtapose dualities in her work be it "spontaneity with restraint" or "dynamic with static". She plays with her compositions until she reaches a harmonious form. 

Oswalt's work is imbued with the colour blue and emits a certain calm because of it.

I have been researching conceptual connections to a certain shade of blue that Rebecca Solnit writes about in her book 'A Field Guide to Getting Lost', in a collection of essays titled 'The Blue of Distance'. 

There are two umbrella themes that manifest in the essays; getting lost in order to find ourselves, and the colour blue. A certain, intangible shade, a shade that will never be graspable: the blue of distance. She perpetually refers back to this blue, meditating on the faraway space between ‘here’ and ‘there’.

A recurrent theme in the essays is light; it’s ability to get ‘lost’ and thus scatter: “…some light does not make it all the way through the atmosphere, but scatters”. In one of the essays, Solnit writes that the shade of blue she seeks solace in can be found in this scattered light: “Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun…It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water”. 

On light that travels through water, Solnit considers how shallow water takes on the colour of whatever lies beneath, but that deep water is full of ‘scattered light’. On the significance of this, she writes that such light is a source of true beauty, “…so much of which is in the colour blue”. The scattered light will cluster, casting illusions to the eye under the guise of a shade of blue.

Solnit is enamoured by that specific blue, one that coexists with scattered light - but only in the depths of water or on a horizon line, as ‘The Blue of Distance’. An intangible horizon, an unattainable blue.

This intangible horizon and the blue ‘distance’ that it accrues from is another thread that reprises; “…the blue at the horizon…that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue…at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance”.

The blue that Solnit writes about is a conceptual shade - because it may never be replicated in the way that perspective establishes it. Without distance, it cannot be extant; it cannot be grasped or possessed. Robert Hass wrote that “desire is full of endless distances”. It could be that Solnit’s fascination with blue stems from the longing for distances we may never arrive in; “for that is the beauty of the the blue world, the beauty of the faraway”.

The ‘faraway’ that facilitates the ‘blue of distance’ in perhaps the most obvious theme to be taken from the essays. Solnit contemplates that all her life she has been moved by “the blue at the far edge of what can be seen…the colour of where you are not”.

Perhaps what is most captivating about this blue of distance that Solnit establishes in her collection of essays is that it is the colour of where we may never go. A colour we can never truly know.