Earth Measure Blues

Color:
my obsession,
a way of being in the world,
power to change the quality of attention.

Geometry:
shadow of perfection,
someplace to stand,
something to hang onto.

Beauty
is subtle, ecstatic,
elegant, rude,
pure experience beyond self.

Geo means earth, metry is measurement. Blues—the color of high desert sky, of sacred turquoise, the sound of lonely voices, horns, sounds descended from wooden drums in a forest night.

“Earth Measure Blues.” Shallow space for push and pull, cut-in lines to follow, curves to bring us back around. Measure the blue earth. The blues measures our earth. Earth is the measure of the blues.

Earth measure blues.

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A more prosaic look at Earth Measure Blues:

Color, and its power to move us and alter the quality of our attention, has obsessed me all my life. To my surprise, however, the jumping-off point for my current work was minimalist Donald Judd’s installation of 100 uncolored aluminum boxes at the Chinati Foundation inMarfa, Texas. Each a little different from all the others, Judd’s boxes made me aware of my own fascination with series of things in nature that are “almost the same but not quite”—mesas, aspens, New Mexico’s flat-bottomed clouds.

My initial response to Judd’s work was a group of multipanel paintings. In each one, as many as 25 small panels repeat the same geometric composition with minor changes in color and proportion. My use of geometric shapes is a response to historic minimalism, to my own life (my father was an architect), and to our difficult political and economic times: geometry gives me a solid place to stand as an artist. Memories of the polyrhythmic drumming of West Africa, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer, also contribute to this series. I discovered that the repetition of near-identical colors and shapes creates compelling visual and experiential polyrhythms.

Earth Measure Blues, my current series of oil paintings, evolved out of the multipanel works and explores visual polyrhythms in a different way. Several years ago I began making small collages by cutting up printed images of the earlier panels. These collages became studies for the new canvases, which are much larger than the panels and meant to be seen alone or in small groups. I have made over 150 collages so far, and the most recent also incorporate cut-up prints of earlier Earth Measure Blues paintings. This recursive collage-based process enables familiar shapes, lines, and colors to form an endless variety of new rhythms on canvas.

The name of the series comes from the Greek meaning for “geo” (the earth) and “metry” (the process of measuring). “Blues” alludes to the unique American musical form, with its African roots, which I often listen to while making collages and paintings. It also refers to the repetition of blue hues in the paintings and to the varying colors of the high desert sky I love to watch.