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When I start looking for the antecedents to this show, I find myself back among all the books at my parents’ house on Ashland Avenue. Art first found me by way of illustration: dogs driving cars, bubbles from a deep sea diver, Jeremy Fisher on his lily pad in the rain. Though my older brother learned to read books early, I spent a long time with my eyes fixed to the pictures, reciting the words from memory. In that sense the artwork wasn’t really illustrating the stories, but the other way around; words described pictures.
During long homeschool afternoons, I remember taking books down from the shelf and sitting alone on the couch to page through photographs of the moon landing, or Degas’ dancers, or an enormous red hardcover of Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. I remember settling into a unique silence with those books. The pile of laundry next to me, waiting to be folded; the patch of prismatic light on the carpet, brightening and fading as clouds moved by outside; the two pen drawings of Scottish castles on the wall over my head—all provided me with an unobtrusive sense of wellbeing.
Above our piano was a framed poster of Byzantine tiles in ancient, and seemingly inevitable patterns. But just as ancient and inevitable at this point, is the pattern of a small wooden puzzle of Mary and her lamb. It’s the puzzle through which my teacher’s at the St. Paul Art Academy introduced me to positive and negative shapes. The idea of a picture “fitting together” like pieces of a puzzle has had an enduring effect on how I draw and paint. Often when I go out to sketch I’m looking for that particular vantage point from which things lock together with a click. It’s this same sense of reality “fitting” which I admire so much in Japanese print making. The sky holds the tree in place; the bridge anticipates the shore. The more I get out and draw the Twin Cities, the more my project feels like an act of assembly, of finding where things belong.
Eventually I began working at the Art Academy. At first I carried out odd jobs around the school: mixing paint or gridding Bristol paper. Later I was assigned to teach the younger students. Occasionally during class some errand or question would send me next door, from the table of talkative teenagers in baggy hoodies, down the quiet hall to the room where the adults sat, peering through thick glasses, selecting long-handled brushes from tackle boxes. I would watch from the edge of the room, waiting to be noticed, listening to the silence of these adults working side by side in a small classroom on a Thursday night.
It was the same silence I had found on our couch with those books. It’s that same silence I’m looking for when I go out to sketch, the silence I’m pursuing when I sit down with my watercolors—and the silence which I hope can be heard in the pieces gathered together here.