My life has been enlightened by the experience of flying. It has connected me to my artist grandmother, it has inspired my own art, and it gives me an objectivity that reaches into all areas of my life.
Lightness and clarity of light are often words I've heard used to describe California painters. They use colors that resonate. We have dramatic landscapes that demand much attention, and certainly the land has staked its claim on artists' souls. My grandmother, Johanne Krag, was one of those artists.
The walls of my childhood home were covered with my grandmother's artwork, as well as carvings, cloisonne and hand-painted treasures she had collected on her travels. Her sketchbooks were filled with pencil drawings and color notations reflecting her travels. She left her studio in order to immerse herself in the California wilderness. Her clothes were always covered with oil paints, even her fur coat and nicer dresses. Her Volkswagen was always filled with art supplies, and she painted "plein air" alone and with small groups. Purple, orange, greens and gold filled her paintings in impossible combinations. She taught me the color wheel, the love of travel and spontaneity, and the thrill and allure of oil-paint aroma.
Shortly after returning from my pilgrimage to European art museums, I had an opportunity to learn to fly a small aircraft. Before taking to the sky I always had difficulty plotting my course on a flat map. But from the air, the earth made sense. Maps, which have the same perspective as aerial views, finally became readable codes.
Airborne excursions have inspired me on many levels. They have provided me with a viewpoint that has become a preoccupation in my artwork. I am connected to my grandmother in that the same landscapes and colors that captivated her have become my obsession, but from another perspective. Rainbows and clouds appear physical rather than optical. Flying through a vast configuration of cumulus clouds is similar to flying into the Yosemite Valley or through the Grand Canyon, except the cliffs are simply vapor.
For a decade I flew as often as I could. Low altitude was my favorite: high enough to gain a sense of relationships, yet close enough to discern details. The geological formations always intrigued me the most and thrilled me with the wonder of creation. But the truly defining impact was the mark of the human. On a cross-country flight I became aware of the most general of conclusions: everything about nature was undulating and everything that man touched had an edge and geometry. Roads, plow patterns left by farmers' tractors, circular irrigation, airports, city grids and even symbolic markings in remote areas are evidence of the human hand. I have explored many media to interpret what I have seen: loose sketches often made during flights, watercolor washes, intricately rendered oil paints, monotypes, lithographs, and finally the essence of land patterns (looking more like abstract shapes) that are embossed into handmade paper. I begin to understand how artists such as Picasso began in a classical tradition and ended in an almost abbreviated style.
For me the most remarkable aspect of flying is the physical feeling of buoyancy that is caused by a real separation from the ground. I compare it to the weightlessness felt in floating in a body of water. Recognizable objects seem so insignificant. Time
seems to have another dimension. Again and again, when I made this detachment, I experienced that problems were re-
solved and inspiration was crystallized into an idea form. I began to expect this each time I became airborne. The objectivity that I experienced in flight might have come partly from a physical separation from land, but obviously it was also a mental perception. My goal has been finding other ways to create clarity. Many of them have been physical. The night my father died this past summer, I went out to his swimming pool and floated on my back for the longest time and stretched my eyes to the farthest stars. The combination of a physical and mental break, whether a few seconds or many hours, can create the separation needed to allow thoughts and emotions to achieve clarity or peace or inspiration. I have given up the thrill of hanging out of cockpits for the perfect view and daring joy. However, maps have become a major metaphor in work that I am pursuing. A current project is collecting chronicles of women's movements: their daily paths traced on actual maps. A woman's week is followed by using seven different colored pencils to distinguish each day--block by block or freeway by jetway. The strong theme in this collection is the intricacy of women's lives. I am primarily interested in the geometric pattern that results from this composite. Please send me YOUR map! Contributors can note destinations or make comments, but it is not necessary. I am hoping to exhibit this collection this year. Our personal map-tracings are geometric symbols of our activities and may yet become another tool for finding ourselves. ¥
The Importance of Lightness