I grew up in a house that had a whole bookcase dedicated to rocks, shells, and fossils. My parents had, over the years, collected many treasures from the natural world. There was the piece of amethyst that my great- grandfather had found on his property. There was the large quartz prism, a chambered nautilus shell, a geode, and many other fascinating objects that had come from the earth. I have fond memories of walking with my Dad along the beach, looking down at the stones. He showed me how to identify which rocks might be geodes, which ones were Petoskey stones, and which ones contained fossils.
My interest in these items continued into my adulthood. I have spent many hours walking on the quarry stone along the Bright’s Grove shoreline, my eyes cast down on the millions of fossils preserved there. The collection at “Stones ‘n Bones”, in Sarnia, became a favourite of mine and I knew that I had to do a series of artwork that was inspired by fossils, petrified wood, and other natural formations. The objects in the collection at “Stones ‘n Bones” and the fossils along the shoreline became the inspiration for Peregrinatio.
It is part of the human condition to contemplate the nature of life. We look around us and see a physical world. The earth herself holds a narrative, a story that reaches from a distant past to an unknown future. We are part of that story. Recognizing that our physical existence is temporary, we can project that our corporeal selves and the material aspects of our society will ultimately become part of the fossil record of the future. From its beginnings, humanity has desired to reach beyond our earth-bound existence to seek assurances of immortality and to attempt to leave a legacy of our own transcendence as proof of our being and as a bridge to the future.
The artwork for this exhibition will reference earth’s fossil record: organic fossils, geodes, geological formations, and petrified wood. Through my works, these objects are used symbolically to become metaphors for memory, transformation, legacy, and transcendence. My paintings lead the viewer to enter an uncomfortable contemplation of a cycle that includes life, death, and fossilization. Yet, fossilization is a transformation. The process of fossilization itself is a tangible link between the past and the future. And so it stands as a powerful symbol for humanity and for transformation that reaches beyond our current experience.
Peregrinatio is an ancient word that in its broadest sense means, "pilgrimage". However, the term is also used metaphorically to describe an inner, spiritual journey or quest. By acknowledging that we have a deep connection with our natural world, and with one another, we catch glimpses of the intangible. And so we begin our quest to see what lies beyond our physical existence, our own memories and our experiences. In this exhibition, images of the journey or quest coexist with symbols of the earth’s fossil record to compel the viewer to consider his or her own peregrinatio.
A long time ago, someone gave me an old book called The Bible Looking Glass. Published in 1875, the book contains a series of essays and engravings, religious "similitudes", and "comforting literature". The book itself did not interest me so much, but what was contained inside did! Someone who had originally owned this book pressed within it a number of dried flowers, a Palm Sunday cross, and a lock of hair. Moved by the poignancy of finding such objects, I carefully removed them and scanned them. Most of them subsequently fell apart.
I began to consider how objects can represent a connection to a life that once lived and is now gone. To me, the disintegration of the pressed flowers was itself symbolic of our own mortality and of our vain efforts to preserve the tangible aspects of our existence.
To represent this experience, I created 7 shadow boxes (there were 7 items contained in the book--a perfect symbolic number). Within the boxes are actual pages from the book. I chose pages that spoke of immortality, memory, time, and our relationship with the earth and with God. To these pages, I attached real fossils. I chose ammonites because they are spirals and they have compartments. On the glass I affixed the scanned images of the objects I found.
Petrified Wood Series, 2007
Gouache on watercolour canvas, 24 X 48"
This series of paintings is based on petrified wood. Images of petrified wood are juxtaposed with images of human legacy.
How do we see our own place in the story of the earth itself? We work hard to preserve our legacies and memories of our deeds. We take photos and mount them on acid-free paper. We teach our children what we feel is important. We take videos. We archive our lives digitally. Many of us feel in our bones that there must be more than our mortal lives, yet we try so desperately to preserve what we can of our existence.
In a series of paintings that are 24"X24", I am exploring the concept of looking beyond geological structures and fossilized remains of organisms to explore the essence of a life that once existed--a legacy that has been sealed into the geological record of the earth.
This triptych explores the underground processes that convert fossils into fuel through heat and compression.