Thom Sawyer

Julia's Garden

You have seen everything created running toward its death.
—Petrarch

…I looked and looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else.
—Vladimir Nabokov

The elements of time, seriality, and memory as defined and embodied in the landscape are the subjects of this ongoing series of paintings and drawings. These aspects are drawn from memories of growing up in a landscape lined with numerous creeks, streams, and rivers, which flooded in the spring, fell in the summer, and froze in the winter. Seasonal changes made time visible as powerful rivers cut through low rows of mountains while less substantial creeks and streams folded on themselves and meandered around hills and valleys. Each environment, although different, was linked by a common stillness brought on by a continually changing flow, as expressed by Wallace Stevens' poem,

The flecked river
Which kept flowing and never the same twice, flowing
Through many places, as if it stood still in one.

The remembered experience of moving through the many hills and valleys of this landscape is another influence on the paintings and drawings. On foot or by car, the successive rise and fall of ridges and hollows compressed and expanded vision, alternately obscuring and revealing close details and far vistas. These rhythms became fluid markers of time, which mixed small, passing gestures (similar to de Kooning's slipping glimpses) with broad expanses of earth and sky. These countless moments resisted any one privileged view or experience, and, as landscape architect James Corner wrote, constructed a larger, overarching context:

Meaning, as embodied in landscape, is experienced temporally. There is a duration of experience, a serialistic and unfolding flow of befores and afters. Just as a landscape cannot spatially be reduced to a single point of view, it cannot be frozen as a single moment in time. The geography of a place becomes known to us through an accumulation of fragments, detours and incidents that sediment meaning, "adding up" over time.

This "adding up" over time is woven into the landscape through immediate, ephemeral experiences as well as deep histories that stretch back centuries. The impact of such histories took shape in my youth through innumerable visits to memorialized battlefields and their profound collective memories. Gettysburg, the most frequent pilgrimage, established an enduring understanding of the landscape as the locus of often-conflicting sensations. Despite its over-memorialized, over-mediated history, there persisted in Gettysburg places and moments when the modern, quiet, tended fields and woods and encroaching suburbs gave way to brief visions of that same landscape as a site of terror, courage, loss, and death. While that struggle's narrative was important, what remained far more indelible was the sense that the landscape had potential not only to bear witness to a natural passage of time, but also to a man-made passage of time that was a potent, foreboding mixture of the heroic and horrific, both of which wiped away any hint of the frivolous and bucolic.

Julia's Garden combines these ever shifting experiences of the landscape into overlapping, intertwining and sometimes competing layers of meaning and memory. Over the past several years, the work has evolved within the boundaries of a small, compact urban garden. There, various found organic materials like flower petals, seed pods, grasses, twigs, and rocks set a cycle in motion: a portion of the natural world is formed into language that eventually breaks down, decays, and is transmuted back into the garden's flow. Such a cycle accumulates time, constructs memory, and suggests the inevitable dissolution of the corporeal.