Tag Archives: Alan Lightman

The inspiration and ideas behind upcoming exhibit,”Island Dreams and Memories”

dsc_0529dsc_0166

 

 

 

 

dsc_0072

Island Dreams, 2016, oil on wood panel, 24×32″

I think often of an island that fills my childhood memories. My mind goes straight to certain places there: a sweaty dance floor at Sea Grapes before it was rebuilt and then after, the overturned beached dingy with a litter of puppies underneath, a horse named Francis in the living room of a house, Sunday breakfast at Pink Sands before Hurricane Andrew hit, the old Greek magnet’s burned down yet palatial ruins. I remember certain people and realize they are frozen in my memory untouched by time. Larry Cleary singing Night Shift, Dawson kindly walking me home, Gus behind the bar and at the pool table, Carol and Roger in their library, Angela barking orders. Sometimes we presume the people and places in our memories to be accurate accounts in the present. But time does not reach and alter places or people in our memories. They are frozen there until our minds can no longer play that slide show.

Mistakingly, I thought I was a part of this place. But it was and is a place of its own – I was just a shadow passing through. Now, after many years, I look back and ask, how can a place be so important to me, yet I am not important to that place? This is a question to ask ourselves as visitors when we do not contribute to a community with long term commitment, when we are not there through the good and bad, through the reality of living. When we visit a place, we are experiencing an alternate realm, that of a tourist. There is a closed door to the real life there. Considering the local people, their history, lives, families, work, personal struggles and celebrations, we realize how inconsequential we are as visitors. Fondness does not equal belonging.

DSC_0208

“Looking Back,” 2016, image transfer, collage and acrylic on paper, 14 1/4 x 21

Despite my fleeting time there, I started a group of paintings about a year and a half ago after visiting Harbour Island for the first time in over 20 years. Returning to a place after many years can be jarring because the present can show us the flaws in our memories, how we romanticize or selectively choose to store certain details and discard others. How we recreate the truth, rewriting our past to fit a script we want to believe. Even when our memories are relatively clear, the passage of time changes a place so we realize what we remember does not really exist anymore, except in our minds.

dsc_0059

Entry Point, 2016, oil on wood panel, 21×24 1/4″

In some ways, I started working on this group of paintings when I was 8 years old…I remember being obsessed as a child with the disheveled graveyards sprinkled around the island, with their cracked headstones, and overgrown wildness. Some of my first drawings and paintings were of those headstones, entangled in vines and home to flocks of chickens.dsc_0415

Using memories, photos and sketches from the island has become a vehicle to articulate ideas I’ve tried to convey for years through painting: that everything we see is a partial image altered by individual perception, that all things fade as time passes, and that our memories are altered by our minds plus the passage of time. This group of work is also influenced by the writings of Dr. Alan Lightman. Lightman is unique in that he has dual tenureship at MIT, in the Writing and in the Physics departments. Perhaps he is able to so eloquently write about memory and time because he understands it, not like most of us, in a vague and abstract way, but from a scientific perspective.

dsc_0096

Childhood Escape, 2016, oil on canvas, 36×24″

In the NYT article, “Ghost House of My Childhood,” Lightman writes, “Some philosophers claim that we know nothing of the external world outside our minds – nothing compared to what sways in our minds, in the long, twisting corridors of memory, the vast mental rooms with half-open doors, the ghosts chattering beneath the chandeliers of imagination.”

Some of the pieces in this exhibit are snapshots, like a frozen moment captured that can never be seen again in just that way. Some of the paintings reference nature overtaking a manmade structure, which alludes to the passage of time. And some of the paintings combine images like our memories smooshing together poignant moments into one illogical snapshot that we accept as a true moment in the past. For example:

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the paintings and the ideas that inspired this group of work. Laura dsc_0781

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Accepted! Touring Arkansas with the “Small Works on Paper” Exhibition

ChairandStripes John Watson

“Chair and Stripes” by John Watson

I often write about museums and gallery exhibitions and about artists I admire. This time, as I introduce a long running Arkansas favorite exhibition, I get to include my own work in the post. Yes, one of my paintings was accepted in the venerable Small Works on Paper show! In it’s 29th year, the Arkansas Arts Council’s traveling exhibit includes 37 works on paper with a maximum size of 18 x 24″.  This year’s juror was Kati Toivanen, Professor of Art and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. I am grateful to be included in this outstanding show.

“Seeking” by Laura Raborn

The painting Toivanen selected is part of an ongoing body of work where I explore the passage of time and memory. The young girl stands among faded ruins that once housed lives and dreams. The architectural structure is enveloped by a layer of clouds which allude not only to the passage of time and its impact on a vacant structure, but also to our memories of a place. Notice how the semi-transparent cloudy layer begins to interrupt portions of the girl’s body. Notice how the weeds at the base of the building irrationally grow over part of the girl’s body. These details refer to the passage of time and how our own aging constantly alters what and how we remember. She could be looking back on her own childhood, or remembering a special place. Or she could be dreaming of a place or trying to recall a faded memory.

Our own history and experiences alter how we see our surroundings. We inadvertently apply our history to everything we view, letting our perception become our reality. Everything we see, and everything we think we remember is only a biased, warped, individual account, leading me to conclude that there IS no reality. Perhaps the passage of time in our minds versus the passage of time in the physical world in which we live are like two parallel universes. We see glimpses of the other universe – our physical world – but only partial ones. And our minds draw conclusions based on our individual memory and experiences. Now that I’ve utterly confused myself with these thoughts, you might understand why I have a hard time painting these ideas. But I can hardly stop. It is part of my being to ponder these ideas and put them in visual form best I can. Giving me hope, though setting the bar high, is writer and physicist, Alan Lightman. His article “Ghost House of my Childhood” and his best selling novel, “Einstein’s Dreams” are two sources of great inspiration (to read more about Lightman’s influence on my work, see previous post titled, “Struggling to Convey Certain Ideas Through Painting: The Influence of Beautiful Writing”). I hope to someday paint half as well as he writes about time.

Oona_Galusha-Clarkeweb

“Oona” by Clarke Galusha

The annual traveling exhibition must be quite an undertaking for the Arkansas Arts Council: first the call for submissions, hiring an out of state juror who judges hundreds of entries, then the selection and collection process, the purposeful and cohesive framing, the opening events, and the repeated packing and transportation as 37 works travel to 10 venues throughout the state. There is no telling how many tasks and steps I failed to mention. We are lucky to have an organization willing and able to provide artists with an opportunity to display artwork in so many locations during the course of one year. For the exact dates and locations, see schedule below. And if you find yourself nearby, please visit this year’s Small Works on Paper exhibit!

2016 Small Works on Paper Touring Schedule

January 5-29 Batesville Area Arts Council
February 4-26 Hendrix College, Conway
March 4-30 Arkansas Tech University, Russellville
April 1-30 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
May 6-27 University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
June 4- July 9 Searcy Art Gallery
July 19- August 27 Delta Cultural Center, Helena
September 1-29 Arts Center of the Grand Prairie, Stuttgart
October 6-26 University of Arkansas at Monticello
November 2-28 University of Arkansas at Hope

Struggling to Convey Certain Ideas Through Painting: The Influence of Beautiful Writing

IMG_0118_2Sometimes we yearn for something, for a person, or education, for an experience, or travels, for a rest or a new skill. If we can identify what it is we so desire, sometimes that very thing arrives. And when it does, it feels like a little miracle, appearing at the exact moment you need it most.

This happened one week ago, as I read the New York Times article, “The Ghost House of My Childhood” by Alan Lightman. His description of specific objects leads me to think of him as a visual artist, in addition to being a writer and physicist. His each and every word – a brushstroke or mark, an outline or shadow. He creates visual images in the reader’s mind that demand we see the objects in his memory. His words create simple visual cues leading us to understand complex ideas, such as the line, “My body is a distant, cold moon” which he stated when discovering his childhood home had vanished.

I realize most writers are masterful at choosing  words to create visual imagery for readers. In this case, the images and ideas presented by Lightman happen to perfectly match the ideas I aim to convey in my paintings. I’ve yearned for this very article. The imagery he creates with precise words helps me learn how to better paint the ideas I’ve considered for the past two years.

DSC_0974The author helps readers understand that once things are gone, the only evidence of the past is in our minds. “And on the ground where the house was, new grass. Not a single brick or splinter or piece of debris.” Inspired by Lightman’s article and his eloquent words, I spent the week in my art studio continuing to dig at ideas: composing work that shows the figure in a space or setting indicating the lost past, a history, and the idea of memory defining us and binding us. While painting, I consider the past is only in our minds and that everything we think and see is partially “real” and partially “imagined.” While I struggle to achieve and communicate these ideas in my paintings, this week I moved a bit closer thanks to Alan Lightman. DSC_1000

He writes of memory and of neurobiologists’ description of memories. This painting (here, to the right) positions the figures with abstract shapes that interrupt, cover, and participate with the figures. The circular forms are like the flowing molecules Lightman refers to when describing our ever-shifting memories and perception of the world.

The two paintings below allude to several ideas: the view that every life is fleeting, that everything we look out and see is a partial image altered by perception, that all things fade as time passes, and that our experiences and perceptions are layers obscured over time.

DSC_0991DSC_0996 2

 

 

 

 

 

The author’s handling of air immediately struck me as powerful and ignited specific methods I can try in painting. Of air, he writes, “I slide through the air,” “I can see right through the empty air,” “The air had a stillness it never had before,” “but there is only the silent, dead air,” and my favorites because of the unorthodox combination of words, “this empty corner of air,” and “I can see through the slab of air.” I’m not sure how I could paint these exact examples or if I even want to try, but they teach me that when something is missing or gone, what remains is more than nothing. The missing thing or the faded history is replaced by a vacuum so tangible, so acute in the mind of the memory holder, that saying the space is empty or only full of air, is not enough. A “slab of air” evokes the expression, “slab of concrete” which is something so solid and something Lightman yearns to see. In fact, of the former house he writes, “I try to will it into solidity.” The use of the word “slab” makes us hyper aware of what is missing. Perhaps this is what I find so enthralling about Lightman’s writing – the startling inversions he creates cause the reader to truly sense what he is experiencing.

One of the most beautiful as well as haunting passages in the article is when Lightman writes, “Some philosophers claim that we know nothing of the external world outside our minds – nothing compared to what sways in our minds, in the long, twisting corridors of memory, the vast mental rooms with half-open doors, the ghosts chattering beneath the chandeliers of imagination.” Now that image could make a great painting, a painting that resonates like the well chosen words of Alan Lightman.

Thank you for reading. Please reply if you have any comments to add to these observations.
Until next time! Laura Laura art 1