Artist's Statement, 2005

Light has always been an important concept in my work. I continue my exploration of light and reflection in my choice of the glass beads used on the surface of the oil paintings that you see here.

The tiny and perfectly round beads reflect the light shown on them causing the viewer to see the painting differently as one views the painting from different perspectives.

I have used this technique metaphorically to explore the concept of “knowing.”

Philip Roth says “Everyone Knows” is the invocation of the cliché and the beginning of banalization of experience, and it’s the solemnity and the sense of authority that people have in voicing the cliché that’s so insufferable. What we know is that, in an unclichéd way, nobody know anything. You can’t know anything. The things you know you don’t know. Intention? Motive? Consequence? Meaning? All that we don’t know is astonishing. Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing.” Roth’s quote from contemporary fiction is a rigorous example of a writer’s examination of the subject of knowing.

As a painter, I have drawn on diverse studies of man’s attempt to “know.”

Carl Jung’s emphasis on dream therapy enabled the dreamer to move back and forth between a state of “knowing” and “unknowing” while examining dream images, probing the unconscious for connections to a greater understanding of the psyche. Our dreams become a map to guide us in our relationships, with others and ourselves. Archetypal images present themselves in our dreams, constellating the unconscious.

The study remains elusive. Grasping tightly to the image, the philosophy, the object, will immediately destroy the “knowing.” Up in smoke goes the knowledge that we were sure that we had in our hands. Joseph Cornel worked to capture the elusive image. His work evokes the ineffable sadness of loss. Each bit of paper, metal and strings are poignant pieces related to his attempt at “knowing.” These works inform my vision of the object.

My work is a meditative practice. It gives me that range of time and space in which to explore our ways of knowing.

Penelope Speier

A Turtle Trying to Swim Upstream

Recently I visited an important rock garden, Daisen-in in Kyoto.

The story of “life” as you will have it, is laid out metaphorically in stone. There are carefully raked gravel “currents” displayed with rocks symbolizing a boat, a cow, a choice of directions to be taken and a small rock that represents a turtle trying to swim upstream.

The guide points out the symbolism of the futility of trying to return to the past.

The little “turtle” rock has remained stationary for centuries making no progress at all it seems but serving as a timeless reminder to each of us who gaze upon his universal message.

Japanese art whether it is sculpture, as in the rock garden, Haiku, ceramics or painting of the traditional style conveys a poignant quality of loss and sense of time.

There is a propensity of distilling things to the very essence, of abstracting a chrysanthemum, pine needles or a butterfly to the most economical line and form.

I see a similarity between Kyoto and Paris. There is a similar sense of elegance. The cities have a reserve, a twist on seeing, a withholding you might say, never revealing the whole.

Many French 19th c. artists whose works are shown in the McNay’s permanent collection were strongly influenced by the decorative quality of Japanese art. For instance Odilon Redon whose pastel of a woman’s shilouette with acacia flowers and other blossoms hangs as a reminder to me of his varied responses to his world.

Color and pattern attract my eye here in Kyoto. The beginning blossoms of the cherry trees, Sakura, which in the tradition of Wabi Sabi would be regarded as the most beautiful either at the budding stage or the dropping off, the beginning of decay.

It would be saying too much to feel the blossoms were at the peak of their beauty when observed in full bloom.

Restraint is very critical to the eye’s perception of the quality of beauty.

Joseph Cornell sought to capture the “elusive moment” in his boxes. This seems the antithesis of Japanese art,trying to preserve a moment in a box. I like to think of Yutaka Sone, a contemporary Japanese artist, dropping his large pair of dice on the cliché of the cowboys on the range in Texas. He exploded the Texas myth. I don’t want to explode the myth of beauty here. I simply want to see it anew each moment.

I seek the essence of the reflection of being as unrelated to place.

The chimera evades me, like the sight of the Blue Heron’s inky blue head feathers at sunset. He turns his head towards me slowly and departs with a wary eye.

The Kamo River flows wide and shallow and clear, change repeated in each drop.

Visual memory and time interest me like the cameras lens quick shutter. Blink and its’ gone. The essence of color and form remain in my memory and my painting.

Penelope Speier