As many of you know, Poppy Transitory is one of three new series I’ve been working on this year, which grew from a selfie experiment married to a recurring, media-inflected investigation of loss (read Before, After – Part 1 for backstory).
Visually, Poppy Transitory suggests Alchemy of Image, with a substantive correlation to The Cascade – Moments in the Televisual Desert—even as it occupies an absurd, candy-colored space between desert and monument, memory and displacement. It grapples with the strange, abstract grief I carry for two individuals I knew only through memory-narrative, and our mutual, familial ties to the Hollywood-infused Mojave Desert.
Artist Statement – Poppy Transitory
Poppy Transitory investigates the sincere absurdity of processing loss with decorative memorials, themselves transitory tokens of grief. Based in a fiercely personal, yet oddly abstract pain, the series considers the story-infused space of mourning—colorful, obsessive layers behave like memory extracts.
Conflating the mysterious Mojave Desert deaths of my sister Cindy Adams (1972) and musician Gram Parsons (1973), I ask what it means to “know” someone through location-tied story; to “understand” events via embellished clues, just as I “knew” both individuals through family narrative. What does it mean to assuage loss through well-meaning transference? Do gifts for the dead resolve our perplexity?
To engage this, I use transparent layers to suggest recalled memory, story cycles, and the deluge of tokens posthumously offered to Cindy and Gram. I deconstruct and reframe the language of the Mojave Desert, the visual vocabulary of memorial shrines, and personal iconography from Cindy and Gram’s clothing, whirling them into a sensitive system of overlaid shapes. The desert they loved represents and consumes them.
Aware of its own artificiality, the work earnestly embraces our candy-colored attempts to mediate the space of grief with flowers, cards, and condolences—the physical trappings of a cultural process of mourning, often our only recourse in grappling with the unexplained. Poppy Transitory is itself a fragile, momentary monument to the passage of imprints, the trace of Cindy and Gram, and to our moment, an undeniable passage of its own.
Winter and spring, 2016 were marked by a recurrent obsession with my sister’s murder, with Gram Parson’s connection to my family (and sense of place)–and the conflicting, mysterious accounts surrounding their sudden deaths.
They perished in the Mojave (not far from each other physically, or chronologically). Their deaths were violent, unexpected, colored by narrative, encoded with misinformation–true clarity and closure denied on both counts, even if official records claim otherwise. Their deaths have followed me as I grew, rooted in my formative years, finding a voice in each decade, adapting to different moments, always clouded, sometimes comforting.
This desert-tainted connectivity (and obfuscation) fueled Poppy Transitory on a conceptual, even physical, level and I followed my obsession dutifully, turning again to printmaking for execution. (Continued below image gallery)
I printed more than 50 pieces in May, 2016, after a poignant entanglement with a friend led to a sharp break (another well of dislocation and loss), itself a suitable subtext for a series that addresses dislocation, distance… (the short time with, the inevitable time without).
Printing the series was physical, intense.
I combined several techniques in a furious and responsive manner, and most of the individual works have more than 30 or 40 printed layers, some bearing marks so transparent, they can only be seen from delicate side angles. I would print for 5 – 8 hours continuously, without breaking, and often as long as 10 to 12 hours, sweating and grinding at the hand crank, madly inking and placing hand-carved linoleum blocks and monotype plates. Printing consumed the entire month and by the end of May, each piece had passed through the etching press hundreds of times, then mercilessly passed again under my silk screens as they accumulated more layers, more obfuscation.
When adding silk screen layers, I filled the entire classroom at New Grounds with tables and screens, ink and prints-in-progress, each work on paper fluttering with the blowing air conditioner. The loose, fragile surfaces submitted to a cycle of layer-hammering, turning, layering, turning, stacking, turning, until the surfaces were ready for additional linocut, monotype and final layers of directly marked ink.
I tore my rotator cuff printing this series. I felt it to the bone. I carried a physical pain-imprint of the work and its ideas, its subtext, through the summer and I’m only just now getting normal rotation back. It’s as if the pieces had re-imprinted their garish concerns, their selves back on my tissue, invading my body.
William Kentridge suggests every print is a “trace” of the original surface; a memory of the plate impressed on paper. Thus, printmaking was the perfect vehicle for investigating this webbing of interrelated moments, images and clues—explored and combined like memories themselves. I did not know Cindy or Gram personally, yet they are intertwined with my life, their presence (and glaring absence), always a veil away. They are present-not-present, both signifier and signified, just as the plate surface was once autonomous, then acquainted with the paper through impression.
Cindy died January 11, 1972. Gram died Sept. 19, 1973, only four months before I was born (January 22, 1974), in the tenuous window between Cindy’s departure and my arrival. Our going and coming, all in the Mojave. The shrines, epigraphs and cards (as much “them” as the stories and photographs of their lived experience), all in the Mojave. These pieces, all tied to the visual language of the Mojave.
The memory-imprint of each carved linoleum block, each silkscreen stencil, each unique printmaking plate, is thus transferred to paper with this in mind, generating transparent, shifting layers that collide, disperse and even co-exist. Each moment is a trace of the original plate-event, each shape a touch of the original signified, just as our memories offer a hint of the original experience (however layered, mentally mediated, fictionalized). Each imprint a trace of my hand, of my considerations and judgments. Each time I recall a story, a trace of the original encounter is proposed, engaged. Maybe forgotten.
Layered like transparent sediment, each “stamp” suggests the way pinpointed moments and memories freeze with a fictionalized quality, yet remain transient and insubstantial (yet often hardened as iconic distillations), until built up with other layers of memory and experience (additional strata). Here, the indeterminate qualities of stamping and highlighting, and the tension between crisp pinpoints and veiled passages, allowed me to suggest that information is only partly reliable, just as my knowledge of Cindy and Gram will always occupy a clouded in-between space. Our memories are composed of constellations. The stars, partially decoded clues…
We build our understanding of people, events, even places in collected, layered and associated pieces. Each time we share, recall and disperse memories, we collate them into understandable stories, homogenizing certain aspects, amplifying specific details. They may even become stripped down, or wildly embellished, reoriented like layers of understanding… the understandably real is no longer important or necessary.
Each of these pieces contains a whirl of desert-infused shapes, extracted from the Mojave landscape, distilled as iconography from the life and death of Cindy and Gram, from my own childhood connection to the area, its aridity, its refusal to reveal its mysteries. I drew on the visual vocabulary of Gram’s colorful, flamboyant suits, Cindy’s floral patterned clothing and sheets–and folded desert rocks, highways, Joshua trees, telephone poles and poppies into the mix (the poppies as represented on Gram’s garish patches, as patterns on Cindy’s sundresses, and as real Mojave wildflowers).
These direct elements were then blended with odd, colorful elements culled from condolence cards kept in a box (cindys-not-cindys), and from the plastic flowers, cards and trinkets left by fans (grams-not-grams), left by family for both (for a time), and the inevitable passing of their offerings, as they inevitably fade from living memory. I found the relationship between the delightful, decorative language of their living clothing–and the grief-laden, posthumous florals were part of an uncanny chorus. There was a visual collision where the objects of mourning conflated with the patterns of the living–a crossover I purposefully investigated in the surface of each layered piece. While the work dances with decorative elements, it remains broken, unresolved.
The repetition of shapes suggests our attempts to reconcile transient grief, the appearance and reappearance of detail, our attempts to unify dispersed moments and to make vivid the unclear and hidden. The shapes are a whirlwind self-haunting pieces,
It actually seems fitting that poppies are the California state flower. They exist in a state of constant rebirth as annuals, bursting briefly into being, then dying away. Transitory. A hot flash, a cool dispersal. There were poppies on my sister’s clothing. Poppies on Gram’s embroidered suits and shirts… poppies growing alongside the plastic flowers and gifts left in their honor. Poppy Transitory is thus the perfect title, the perfect way of looking at movement through the desert wasteland.
Selected works from Poppy Transitory are featured in an exhibition this August, Pressient – Contemporary Abstract Printmaking, curated by Trish Meyer. The show runs through the month at the Weyrich Gallery in Albuquerque, NM.
View my exhibitions page for more information.