January: Old Wrapping, New Gifts

Hippocampus The process of memory and imagination both happen in a deep, central part of the brain called the hippocampus. I am resisting the urge to insert a Moomin cartoon right now… Objects, words, colors, tastes and smells trigger an impressive parade of memories and imagination for me. They trickle in from the subconscious, or more specifically that little hippo creature in my brain, in a concatenation worthy of William S. Burroughs. These micro-ignitions often happen at inopportune moments: while attempting to sing in public, at dinner parties and occasionally at funerals. It’s particularly embarrassing if the triggered emotion is strong enough to produce spontaneous tears and/or laughter.

Partying in Moomin Valley: Moomintroll (second from right) dancing through the night with the Snork Maiden (from Tove Jansson’s second Moomin book, Kometjakten, Comet in Moominland, 1946)
Partying in Moomin Valley: Moomintroll (second from right) dancing through the night with the Snork Maiden (from Tove Jansson’s second Moomin book, Kometjakten, Comet in Moominland, 1946)

When I try to fall back asleep on marketless Sundays, visions stream in a torrent hard to control. Paintings and poems practically compose themselves. Is this when all those suppressed micro-ignited memories and images emerge from the castigation of etiquette to dance with one another?  (I could no longer resist the Moomins!) One such work has emerged in watercolor this week. With the obsolescence of paper calendars, I no longer buy blank pages of leather bound hope. Instead I make a painting in January, I hope to fully understand, if not appreciate, by December.

2015!! Sketch
2015!!, pencil sketch.

2015!! is a self portrait in objects after an emotional holiday season. Getting married for the second time was not the least of events on my December calendar. The sketch alone felt like fishing with a long line into the abyss. The luxury of a walk-in closet/office is not only to have season appropriate clothing within arms reach at all times, it is also a small warehouse for memories. A rural speed internet connection allows ample time for staring at the shelves where 40+ years of mementos sit. My high school prom-dress hangs underneath my mother’s silver brush, comb and mirror set my father bought for her on their wedding. I haven’t kept everything, but the array of objects is startling deep.

Yayoi Kusama's Queen of Hearts
Yayoi Kusama’s Queen of Hearts

The books on my shelves are the most important things. They contain my past, as well as unfulfilled parts of the future. I am saving an copy of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Yayoi Kusama for the right moment in a yet to be checkered career as an illustrator. Taking stock in anticipation of 2015 required looking at the books of my imagination more than actual shelves. And so I sat at my computer to look up stuff– for details and inspiration, as well as sifting the desires that bob in a whirlpool that won’t flush. What panned out in the sketch and final painting is going to take a while to process, much less bring to fruition.

20015!!, watercolor on paper, by NEP
20015!!, watercolor on paper, by NEP

I won’t belabor the entire collection here. That would take the fun out of interpretation for the few brave, bored or interested enough to look. There is one detail that I would like to unpack: the chicken in the mirror. If only social media was the right reference tool, there would be a hyperlink to the various artistic readings by friends and cohorts. Although I love most of what people take away from my art, I’d like to dispel any misinterpretations of the chicken in the mirror.

Harriss Spiral: Unpacked
Harriss Spiral: Unpacked

In my twitter feed I recently came across  The Harriss Spiral, a geometric interpretation of the golden ratio by mathematician Edmund Harriss. By continually inscribing a square within a rectangle based on the golden ratio of 1:1.618, a spiraling mosaic of squares and rectangles is created. Harriss then draws a quarter circle within the squares to form an actual spiral, from which he then adds progressively diminuitive branching spirals. Surfing the internet vacillates from dangerous addiction to timely information retrieval for almost all of us. The progressive mathematical leaps required to make the Harriss spiral strike me as a beautiful visual metaphor for the rabbit hole of the internet. As packets of information are unpacked by clicking through link after link, I see the Harriss spiral forming.

Mirror and Mouse, or dangerous monitor?
Mirror and Mouse, or dangerous monitor?

But why is Bunny staring at a chicken in a mirror? None of the readings of 2015!! have focused on the following minor details: the shape of the mirror frame and the mouse that bunny is pushing with her right hand. The spiraling metal frame is not a faerie whimsy, but a reference to Harriss’ spiral. The mirror is a monitor as well as a reflective surface. When the scales tip toward addictive surfing, what emerges on our computer screen reflects more about us than we realized. Without the process of introspection, apparently objective information may just be an echo chamber reinforcing strong internal biases. Is Bunny contemplating her own lack of courage, or is she just mindlessly surfing images of chickens for her next art project? Hmmm? I will revisit this in December.

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