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September 14, 2014

Once I’ve determined my process, I challenge myself to stick with it. Unraveling wet, stinky beach rope that I pull out from the nooks and crannies on the rocky beach has it’s discouraging moments. As both taskmaster and worker, I force myself to completion with the same kind of discipline that got me through marathons in what, now, seems like a past life. Hunkered down in the midst of flotsam covered with rotting tidal muck I become lost in the process and fall into a meditative rhythm. Slipping into the scene, I notice things that the hurried approach of our modern lives tends to sidestep. Yesterday, right about the time I was daydreaming about all the disgusting things I might find in the tangle of grossness, I heard a rustle from under the rocks. A minute later, the brown, furry face of a mink was poking out, curious as to what I was up to. I began to notice other wildlife: grey seals with their raspy breathing as they surfaced for air, and loons, whose yodeling reminded me of the Adirondacks. Watching the ocean requires the patience of a monk but is rewarding not just for what you might see, but for the state of mind that ensues.

My mindless labor leads me to all sorts of fruitful thinking. I’ve worked all sorts of jobs–from teaching college to digging ditches; it’s the menial jobs I’ve had doing things like house painting, mowing lawns or sanding floors that have coincided with my most productive periods of creative thought. I’m not very good at sitting still, so I might as well be productive while I ruminate about life.

Process oriented art lends itself to emotional outcomes. I’m reminded of Jackie Winsor, a post minimalist sculptor who was a native of Newfoundland. She created a series of sculptures–mostly cubes–that were meticulously built of layers and layers. Once completed, she would make gut decisions that often resulted in the degradation of the work and then a final resurrection (Burnt Piece, Exploded piece, Dragged Piece). I was fortunate enough to be her escort for a day in 1985, when I was a grad student at Cornell. Our long conversations made me aware of a way of working where the repetitive actions of making could become an act of self-revelation and that expression wasn’t necessarily predictable. At the airport, we were so engrossed in conversation, she almost missed her flight. My working process here is like getting lost in a really good conversation, except that the dialogue is internal.

Eventually, my steady work leads to small triumphs: a knot untied, a freed loop of rope, then, finally, after three or four hours: from a wet lump of flotsam, I have extracted 450 feet of good rope!

work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia


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