The Semi-Finalist periodically sheds light on shows, projects and writing. This is where that happens.
At first glance there may be only subtle similarity noticeable between artists John Richardson (CT) and Benjamin Terrell (OR). One portrays nonobjective space with pencil only, and the other uses landscape to imply grand spaces with oil paint and stain. But both artists share a curiosity for how space and shape relate and a respect for the mystery of what cannot be named or fully articulated. The work of both is born of awe and appreciation of the way life is held together by forces fragile and ultimately unknowable.
- from the Parallel Lands press release
Terrell and Richardson will be showing work together in Parallel Lands at One Wall Gallery in Eugene, Oregon from June 1 - July 31. Below is a conversational correspondance that developed out of their mutual interest in each other's work and ideas.
Above: John Richardson, Field/Gate No. 816
2023, graphite and colored pencil on Arches Cover, 7" x 7"
Below: Benjamin Terrell, House and Cloud
2023, Oil paint and stain on wood panel
Benjamin Terrell: I began today thinking about the experience you shared with me, of being in the countryside and seeing a gate with no fence. I remembered how you mentioned that had creative significance for you, I imagined some similarity to Nietzsche and his "Turin Horse." Obviously not in comparison to the breakdown that reportedly resulted, yours more akin to an unexpected breakthrough that can occasionally happen amongst the ordinary, an occurrence or opening to some parallel world that allows us to access new perspective, unlimited compassion and greater intuitive understanding. In my practice it was a realization that the earth is the bottom of the sky, reimagining then what a landscape implies, how any picture or even poem dances around an unnamable mysterious middle. Also, reading the Christian mystic text, The Cloud of Unknowing, I liked the idea that in order to see God (truth, self) one must surrender to something great and unknowable. So, combining a spatial and spiritual apophatic relearning. Tell me more about how the gate inspired your recent work and how it corresponds to other invitations in your life.
John Richardson: Yes, there was a gate standing alone at the head of a field. From its construction, it was clear that at a previous point it served as a fence-opening to a pasture, but now the fence was gone. Still in the spring the grass was mowed by the farmer such that an implied fence line took shape, with short grass in front of the gate extended, and tall grass in what was once an enclosed space. Driving by the gate twice a day, to and from work, through four seasons over a number of years, I had an opportunity to consider the gate as analogous to some of the mysteries of life. It’s constancy revealed the changes around it. The gate was fastened with a chain and padlock, yet it was possible to walk around it as I did one day. So what was the gate keeping in? What was it keeping out? Could it be an entrance to something unknown? It’s hard to say, as the one thing I could not do was pass over that threshold. The experience of the gate was consistent in that it kept me out. The gate was still the gate, with or without the fence. Then one day the gate was gone. Without the gate, the physical memory of the fence also disappeared. The conceptual doubling of the fence, from there, to not there, was no longer a possibility. Much of what I’ve explored through art these past few years is similar to this experience. With ancient geometry and speculative architectural rendering, I’ve drawn hypothetical, visually imagined spaces. I often use the conventions of descriptive drawing, isometric views and perspectival techniques, in confounding ways that subvert their original purposes. The idiosyncrasies of documented space are emphasized, sometimes in ways that an actual space couldn’t exist in our world. There’s something that’s pointed to, and something that does the pointing. And then there’s something else altogether. Perhaps like your art, there’s an edge where the known (the earth), and an unknown (the sky) come together? Where one defines the other. The contrast between the two informs both. In this way, an unknown is necessary for a known to exist fully. Yet, how can one grasp what is unknown? A window onto it seems like a good idea to me. I see your paintings as a particular and special kind of window . . .
John Richardson, Field/Gate No. 709
2023, graphite and colored pencil on Arches Cover, 7" x 7"
BT: Paintings are almost always windows or ledges in shape, or some assumed authority to name the edges of what we see. As an object, painting makes a bid for permanence but is best when made from an awareness of our fragile impermanence. Imagining the invention of the pencil, poet Cole Swensen writes, "Beyond every window is a line where the world starts," I think the author would also agree, when we draw a line we externalize an interior impression of the world but that is only a beginning, imagery isn't for over investing, it is the first step in detaching from the boundaries of knowledge. Even the act of creatively seeing, which is the first messenger of consensus, requires a new covenant of we are to get beyond the self. What I love about your work and about drawings in general, is that unlike painting they (can) exist confidently in a state of open negotiation. I recently also read Marie Howe's poem, "the Gate" and agree with an idea it implied; that only in absence can we see. Your drawings, and your gate are composed with an architecture of intuition and I think intuition never assumes separation between experience and experiencing. Intuition knows when the elk are in the field and knows the way we too cross through, even before the grasses are bent.
JR: Intuition intrigues me. I’ve considered different sources of it; when it’s felt more in the chest, a kind of spiritual knowing, a kind of rightness. Love. When it’s lower down, around the stomach, more of a fear-based foreboding. I’m most curious when the intuition operates as a kind of realness, a kind of totality that includes all of the mind, and is not in opposition to logic but encompasses it. Can intuition be felt as a completeness that refers to states not visible, not in this reality, but just as valid or even more? This is a real challenge, to sense intuitively, to feel, and then to transmit, transmit so the experiences can be seen by others but also so it can be recognized by the self. Part of intuition may be that it exists outside of time or at least in a different relation to it. Past, present, and future can be one. I sense this quality in your painting, which is one of the reasons I find great value in looking at it. The ancient and the future collide, and there’s a small space for me in the vastness of the experience. An intuitive place where I sense that I know this land. I’ve been there. Maybe I’m there now, at least in a partial, modest way.
BT: I'm excited that our collaboration will exist in two locations at the same time- one here at One Wall Gallery, in Eugene, Oregon and the other at the University of Connecticut where you teach. We share other parallels too, you spend part of your time in the Fall Creek area of Oregon, and I live along the McKenzie river about sixteen miles away. Even though most of my time is spent in a forested area, my work isn't directly modeled after what I see, say, out on my walks. The places I hope to paint are beyond what I directly experience, in a way I imagine the landscape as the edge of what I know and what can't be known. This is a territory where our two creative destinations intersect, perhaps our imagined worlds aren't parallel but perpendicular. Or perhaps parallel is specific to this form where we find ourselves and doing the work is to find that all things are connected. I return to a particular image of yours, Field/Gate No. 816, it both announces and conceals and reminds me of the work of the Transcendental Painting Group. I think of Dane Rudhyar's writing, his idea that nothing true and vital can avoid intersecting the crystalized and the disintegrating. This reminds me of one of my paintings that you will show, "Yoshiko floats above the Japan of her youth," referencing my Mother-in-law and painted at the time of her recent passing. Spending a lot of time with her toward the end, I think I was often trying to creatively resolve or compassionately envision the unique place that her soul teetered. So flickers our daily flame, fed and blown by the same wind.
Benjamin Terrell, Untitled
2023, oil and stain on wood panel
JR: Yes, the big questions resonate with quiet force. Big questions like where are we from? We are we going? My art is an attempt, not so much to provide a definitive answer, but instead to mark the path from an unknown to a different unknown. In this way it is relational. It has points of connection to its making, to the person that made it, and to those that experience it. It exists as a small locale inside a larger constellation. It is particular. I hope that within this particularity, a meaningful energetic exchange can occur to such an extent that those distant, unseen stars beyond us are touched. While this may be an impossible goal, I find it to be a worthy one. From a small flame, to a solar flare, to the un-nameable. The imperfection that naturally emerges in the making helps ground the exploration. The imperfection provides a knowable reference that adds to the narrative. In this I’m reminded of a Barry Lopez quote, an author that you recommended to me: “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion” (FaceBook post by Barry Lopez from Oct 30, 2011).