SOME NOTES ON THE ROSE MIRROR DRAWINGS
The Rose Mirror drawings bring together three disparate elements: pencil drawings on paper painted red on the reverse side, intricate cuts, and mirror. First, the line drawings are made by tracing, repeating, and sometimes reversing, plein air drawings of roses made in Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2019. These original drawings were made outdoors, sitting on a small stool next to a rose bush, in one sitting, and typically feature one stem or cluster of blossoms. Second, the cut silhouette shapes of the drawings are based on ancient Egyptian papyrus fragments in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These fragments are decayed, loosely coming apart along the grid structure of the papyrus itself, a woven paper with a tactility more in keeping with fabric. Third, there is a mirror, to which my traced-onto and cut-out paper is affixed. A present time is made visible here in the reflection, between the illusionistic decayed spaces of the drawing.
The style in which I have rendered the roses, like all my work, is based on drawing as a tool for fabrication and production–technical illustration. The information of an object is reduced to its most simplistic, a practical stand in for written language. In the process of drawing these roses from life, I would proceed from the question, “what information is necessary to recreate this object elsewhere?” This communication-imperative in the place of gestural or personal expression, as a mode of image-making by hand, is not superficial or nullifying–it is concentrating the subject of the artwork, and the labor of producing it, into the line itself. Perversely, the depersonalized line is not a graph of mere data, it is the animate figuring of thought in relation to craftsmanship and process.
Portland, where I lived for one year of high school but have seldom visited since, has the ideal climate for growing roses and calls itself the “City of Roses”. The flowers grow rampant in yards, parks, and gardens. The International Rose Test Garden in Portland is a large encyclopedic garden arranged according to the year in which the roses were bred. One wanders down a path observing the idealizing alterations to an organic form. A prize-winning rose of the early 1950s was–as you would imagine fashionable taste in that era to prescribe–abundantly petalled, pastel-colored, and modestly hiding its central genitalia. This rose conforms to the aesthetics of repressive femininity. A winning rose from thirty years later quotes the 1950s form but with slightly more intensity of color. From this I think of William Morris’s rose designs from the late nineteenth century, (his rose is single-petalled, like a wild beach rose, with both its male and female genitalia fully exposed) and how the familiar, iconic plant becomes a way to point to the style of medieval depictions of roses. I’m interested in this question of time and its materialization as style. For Morris, the iconographic quoting was not about something as superficial as nostalgia, rather it was about ideology. The adoption of a depiction of the rose from medieval art and design represents the adoption of the guild as a model union for craftspeople, the aura of the handmade, a pre-industrial communal lifestyle, a (slightly fantastical) connection to nature, and socialist politics more broadly.
The silhouettes cut into these drawings are loose interpretations of papyrus fragments that are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online database. They feel slightly inscrutable as objects; they are ancient and contain illegible text, and I know them through the formalizing, historicizing confines of a museum or an art history class. And, I also only know them as they are in the present: in their disintegrating state. They are falling apart along the grid lines of their woven physical body, which underscores the materiality and three-dimensionality that is the support of any physical picture plane. This bodily-ness illustrates another marker of productive, technological, labor passing from one mode into another. The substrate of my contemporary paper is made ultra-physical in how it imitates the papyrus’s disintegration.
As part of my curiosity around the material support, to emphasize the physicality of the picture plane, I have been mounting cut paper to mirror for the last five years or so. The back of the drawings are painted red, casting a colored reflection in the far side of the glass. I’m interested in the illusion of the drawing being suspended in space. The mirror serves another function; capturing the present moment, the surrounding environment, and the body of the viewer.
I like to think of the Rose Mirror drawings as being about obsolescence. I am interested in how styles of representing information go running through time, calling backwards and pointing forwards, manifested in different visual languages of style and representation. I am also interested in how a picture comes together, coheres into a locus of desire, and then dissipates, fragmenting into illegibility. What is the arc of a style, cohering into an aspiration towards beauty or sociability, and then slipping into an awkward and opaque constellation of meaning? With these drawings I am hoping to engage with questions that I feel are at both the deeper and the shallower ends of taste, to think about how a thing might not so much go “out of style” as it might fall “out of ideology”. The motivating desire for producing an object, as well as the production itself, becomes incomprehensible, and a previous mode of idealization is replaced with a new one.
In the week since writing this, Portland has been invaded by federal troops. They are kidnapping, beating, and detaining people, and refusing to leave. This is extremely worrying. The conflicts between unnamed, heavily armed soldiers and protesters, have the feeling of being provoked and staged for the president’s own amusement. Masha Gessen said recently, “In a democracy, politicians’ audience is their voters… They address their voters whenever they’re speaking publicly. In an autocracy, politicians’ audience is always the autocrat.” The images of violence in Portland appear to be–at least partly–symptomatic of this closed loop of theatrical, violent politics, obviously guided by the president’s predilection for brute force. Locally, the Portland police department has a long history of racism and sympathy towards white supremacy, representative of the long, entrenched history of organized white terrorism in Oregon. I’m thinking so much about the protesters, organizers, and communities of color in Portland. I hope the protests will grow bigger in response to what is happening there.