Instinct | Daum Museum: January 25 – December 31, 2020
The artist discusses her work at the Daum Museum in the segments below.
These artist talks were written and published while the Daum Museum has been closed for six months due to the pandemic.
The Rumi Room
Within my exhibition at the Daum Museum, there is an intimate gallery where the talented and curator Thomas Piché has gathered a unique body of work, and dubbed it the “Rumi Room”. The origins of these paintings emerge from time spent on an island off the gulf shore of southern Florida, filtered through an immersion in the ecstatic poetry of Kabir and Rumi.
Each of these paintings were born of an immediacy of the senses: high winds, burrowing clams, sea grasses waving, the elegant tails of terns, beached jellyfish, waves rippling in from the deep sea, a grape leaf cartwheeling in the wind along the shore.
Left: the island Right: Sappho’s Mountain Hyacinths 78×103
The poems that are embedded in these works join that sense of immediacy and even urgency as he/she (Kabir shifted narrative genders seamlessly) begged the reader to not linger in dusty ritual, but rather to (I’m paraphrasing) wake up! Now! Know God! Embrace your Ultimate Lover, who is here! Follow your senses! Everything is here, right now!
Music of the Inner Universe is also included in this room, which I discussed last time, and can be found below.
The two featured paintings today are of the “After Dark” series, shown installed below:
This pair of 12′ long paintings were painted as a diptych. The deep forest green paint that covers much of the background, was mixed from combining a bunch of leftover paints.
Here’s that process on video, it has a soundtrack:
Using mostly a warehouse broom, I poured and pushed the paint around on the two canvases.
With that deep color acting as the paintings’ atmosphere, I pinned them to the wall side by side and began to work on them. The first painting I’ve displayed here, After Dark – In Spirit, was whole already, but for the red, I don’t remember making a mark on it. That’s very unusual.
After Dark – In Spirit 75×136.25 photo credit: E.G. Schempf
The second painting displayed is After Dark – In Body. I worked long and hard on this piece while it was on the wall. Here’s a (crooked) process video that truncates an hour’s work:
ˈpa-ləm(p)-ˌsest: Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.
These two paintings are part of the ‘Palimpsest’ series, and were still drying when the show was curated by the excellent Daum Director and Curator Thomas Piché. This represents a new direction for me, which began from wanting to rework some older, student era canvases.
In this process, several painted canvases are tacked together on the wall, forming a mosaic, then covered selectively with a neutral house paint.
The first time I tried this method, I ran a time lapse camera as I sometimes do to study a new process, but also because I think they’re funny, especially set to music, as this one is:
The unusual surface, free materials and the multiple canvases give me a great deal of freedom and put me into a discovery mode, which is at once agonizing and thrilling.
Palimpsest – Lucid Dreams is a triptych with each panel pushed tightly together to form a solid image.
The second painting was made with raw canvases pinned to the wall, so when they were stretched, a natural 4″ gap is left between them, while the image remains as it was painted.
The narrow black illustrative lines made with a graphite spray paint (SlipPlate®️) typically used on metal to create nearly frictionless surfaces. The spray can version makes a halo on either side of the solid black matte, giving them dimension. It’s gorgeous in liquid for – here’s a video of the liquid form, with music:
Here is Palimpsest – Lucid Dreams, hanging in the temporarily darkened galleries of the Daum Museum.
If you’re interested in reading more about my process, you can go to my blog here: Videos, Photos and Stories
Earth and Air
As it’s cold, cloudy and damp in northeastern Kansas today, I’m drawn to discuss two paintings that are teeming with warmth and the exhilaration of spring.
This first painting, Because the Sun Shines, takes place in a color field of saffron, rose, golden yellow, orange, and a hint of apple green. As often happens for me with very vivid paintings, it was created in the dark of winter, generating warmth in my northwest facing tall ceilinged studio while it bore the brutal winds of January.
Because the Sun Shines 76″x101.5″ Courtesy of Blue Gallery
This warm “field” of color that makes up the background, was poured and pushed into raw canvas that was stretched out flat on the floor of the studio. I was initially enchanted by the pure poured color, which felt like sunshine, and pinned it up on the wall and stared at it for a long while, unable to make a mark. At last, the bow tie shape entered the scene and was balanced by the circular mark of the same color, and I was free to continue.
The marks that followed came from quiet, internal indications of direction, reflecting small activities that rise and fall, puffs of wind and the sound of insects, as one might sense when sitting quietly outdoors on an emerging sunny spring day, when life is reawakening after winter. I see the marks as being form in atmosphere, and when reaching completion, it’s a balancing act of a visual nature, weighing the imagery to see if the painting feels complete, each mark in communion with the other. As I remember, the floating gold stacked circles, both horizontal and vertical, were among the last to be made. Imagine what this painting might look like without those simple marks – it changes entirely.
When the Daum Museum director and curator Tom Piché came to the studio the first time to curate the show, he was drawn to the above painting as well as this second one, below, recognizing their atmospheres and form being near opposites (light and ground, morning and evening) making for a pleasing pairing. The marks came from the same finely tuned, light handed natural movements, that reads to me as recording a snapshot of the living, breathing world.
Bird Songs at Dusk 66″x114.5″ photo credit: E.G. Schempf
I was deeply honored that Barbara O’Brien (former chief curator, director and then Executive Director of Kansas City’s Kemper Museum) agreed to write an essay about my exhibit for the Daum Museum. The Kemper Museum has been an important source of inspiration and nourishment for me all along the way, and I’ve admired Barbara’s work since she began there in 2009.
In her essay, she writes about this second painting:
“…One is not quite sure what one sees at dusk, but the clear sound of a bird’s song is unmistakably present. The closing of the aperture as day gives way to dusk and then to night; last steps toward the house; flashes of brilliant cranberry and turquoise, marigold orange and moss green stutter across the expanse of the painting using the final moments of daylight. The day no longer has a shape or form; no rolling hill or rising tree in profile is visible. But, still, the song of the bird … still.”
Here’s Because the Sun Shines exhibited at the Daum Museum, shown with ‘Palimpsest – Little Violet’ on the right. One gets the sense of the scale of the museum, recognizing that “Sun Shine” is 9+ feet wide:
Photo credit: Angie Jennings
Here’s ‘Birdsongs at Dusk’, installed at the museum:
Photo credit: Angie Jennings
Seventh Voyage 85×66 Photo credit: EG Schempf Courtesy of Blue Gallery
I’ve selected a single painting to discuss this time, as it is unique in style to the show. Music of the Inner Universe, a 20′ wide diptych, is one of those rare paintings that seemingly delivers itself to the artist. It’s creation was unencumbered and instinctual, and at the end of the first day in the studio it was so delicate and full of space, many hours were spent looking at it, to determine what slight marks might be made to bring it into balance without losing any altitude. Here’s a quick look at part of the process on day 1 – sound up for music:
Successful minimal paintings are rare in my experience. These pure colors that are poured and pushed into raw canvas can’t be redone. While most of my work begins this way, often the initial imagery is covered up with further washes and many marks to bring them into balance and completion.
But when it does happen, it’s a great grace. Movements are spontaneous and there’s no struggle, there’s joy and a sense of synchronicity. It doesn’t come from trying harder or working more slowly or reading something or being in a good frame of mind. I’d imagine all of us have had this experience in one way or another.
I love what Barbara O’Brien wrote about Music of the Inner Universe in her essay about the show:
“The title suggests a key to a private world to be understood not by sight alone, but by engaging other senses as well….“
and referencing Cy Twombly’s Quattro Staggioni (A Painting in Four Seasons) Barbara continues…
“Reading the painting from left to right, summer’s heat is followed by the harvest of autumn, suggested by a cluster of ovoid forms draped luxuriously across an open sphere, edges loosely scrawled. A thin curling tendril of summer-sky blue creates a tenuous bond between these two forms. While nearly equal in scale, the yellow passage is held by a sense of mass and gravity, while the open form on the right suggests it might lose its moorings and float aloft. The right-hand canvas (which we experience only after our gaze jumps the space of the corner of the gallery) presents two energies that cannot find such an understanding. While the intense solidity of summer and the open weightlessness of autumn nearly touch edges and find a truce, winter and spring are at odds, with winter always seeming more powerful until spring—with unexpected resilience—holds sway once more. The central black form of winter is softly rounded, an ancient and immovable weight filled with the white-tinged blues of winter shadow, its surface etched by powdery white graffito; surrounded by the hints of spring intruding along the edges of the canvas.”
Music of the Inner Universe at the Daum Museum
The title comes from this Kabir poem:
“….Listen friend, this body is his dulcimer.
He draws the strings tight, and out of it comes the music of the inner universe.
If the strings break and the bridge falls, then this dulcimer of dust goes back to dust.
Take your seat on the thousand petals of the lotus, and there gaze on the Infinite Beauty.”
I’ve always been a fiend for wide open spaces. My studio and home are situated on a tall ridge, which allows for big views. It seems to me that all my work is ultimately about space.
This painting titled Far Away and Near reads to me as the view from a high vantage point across miles of land and sky, and includes everything that happens in an instant, within that space.
This second painting is also a giant at 15’, painted in winter, when trees were bare enough to see between them, and the wind was sharp. It was painted almost entirely while the canvas was on the floor, using a paintbrush taped to a long stick, so I could stand up and see the whole as I was working. It’s titled ‘Icarus’.
This piece is titled ‘Icarus’, and to impart the drama of the story, here’s a breathtakingly beautiful painting titled The Fall of Icarusby Merry-Joseph Blondel that is on the ceiling of the rotunda Apollo at the Louvre.