A Tall Wall Surrounds Me

Oil paint, fabric and stitching on canvas, 102 in x 288 in, 1999-ongoing.

In Mexico, a thick wall of volcanic rock separated our house from the street. The cream and pink colored stones were porous and jagged, pocked with air bubbles and rough to touch. The wall insulated us, and yet was the part of our home exposed to the street. It revealed our fear of being stolen from, or attacked. The entire surface of A Tall Wall Surrounds Me, is divided into the flagstone shapes of this remembered wall. Words are like this wall, in that they provide protection, insulation and exposure. Words can be as heavy and as jagged as rock or as light and buoyant as porous stone. When the painting is complete, each of the flagstone shapes will be filled with a stenciled memory or phrase. Though the memories I am using are specific to my history, it is my hope that they are never confessional. Because the words will be stenciled, they will stand up off the surface of the canvas. As I glaze areas in the painting, the glaze will pool around the words, fixing them in color.

It is my intention that all the component parts of the painting will add together to create a poetic environment capable of being comprehended on different temporal levels: at a glance as an entirety, or inch by inch over a longer period of time. The scale, color, composition and presentation of memory in this project mark a departure for me from previous work. In the past, I have used symbolic imagery to convey the yearning and nostalgia embedded in memory. My hope is to create a surface of phrases that can act as a testament to the thousands of memories, both mundane and profound, that occur throughout a life.

The colors of oil paint directly refer to the colors of the body. Words and the body are, in a way, equivalent. Both are metaphorical homes that we leave and return to psychologically at intervals throughout the day. Through extreme shifts in scale, I hope to express the paradox that memories are simultaneously fragile and powerful, and in this way much like the human body. The colors in the painting are fleshy and visceral, because the intimacy of memory is akin to the privacy of the body. Memories are stored in the body. Both entities present us with an outer surface that is visible, and with murky interior depths that are difficult to comprehend. And through an incrustation of detail, I intend to convey the density and the layering that is inherent in any perception of time. Through obsessive methods such as stitching and stenciling, I hope to articulate the repetitive aspects of remembering.

Loss and gain, alienation and recognition, comfort and discomfort and change are forces felt and recollected by most people at consistent intervals throughout their lives. It is my hope to create an atmosphere of reverie in A Tall Wall Surrounds Me, that can speak about such universal human experiences.

A Tall Wall Surrounds Me, is one component of the installation-in-progress, An Imagined Survival/A Conjured Identity.