The Semi-Finalist periodically sheds light on shows, projects and writing. This is where that happens.
This paragraph is a mountain. Some summit of this idea may be difficult to see at first, less visible as you approach and harder still once you are on it or in it. Imagine its volume as elusive, insurmountable, or even as continuing outside its own margin. It is accurate to say a mountain is an enormous rock formation but it can also be (over an almost inconceivable amount of time) a field of rocks made small- a mountain dissolved. As you travel away to other peaks and paragraphs a similar slow dissolution might occur with these words. Or this implied mountain may fade into a distant grey, like a mountain in mist, memorable mostly between pause and emptiness.
Green Mound in a Green Land
2023, oil on canvas, 16" x 20"
This paragraph is a mound. A mound doesn't long to be a mountain, it invites ascension. As if it, too, was somewhat astonished at its vantage point (being) not merely a minor peak, maybe better understood as an uprising of urgent earth. As if a fossil festered and found itself as a silent Stupa. Its interiority as a reminder- every worthy inspiration begins as a secret concealed. In Oregon we have buttes- a flat-topped tower of rock created by erosion. Imagine, something of such potential substance has been silently revealing itself, slowly stripped away by the wind and water of 20- 30 million years. What else might be revealed one day when we, too, are merely the distant center of someone else's ascent?
2023, oil on canvas, 16" x 20"
This paragraph is a goal post, a soccer net, a tent or any other man-made construction meant to conceal or temporarily house something in motion. Perhaps it is a cat's cradle, a dream catcher or a coastal labyrinth built to contain the frontier-ism of the west that ran out of room to roam. Eventually everything will return to the wind and dark water. But If energy isn't allowed its momentum, it can only turn inwards and implode. For every hundred seeds sewn; hundreds more are lost in the wind. Maybe these words also are never to take root, forever caught in this netting of prose. Perhaps these ideas can be dispersed long unknown distances like seeds carried far by beak, feather and fur.
2023, oil on canvas, 19" x 21"
These are not traditional landscapes, but they are awash with the tradition of landscape painting, landscape writing, even. They, like a Kesey, a Corot, or a Kirkeby, contain an unfathomable idea - the earth will continue without us. Don Olsens' paintings are stereoscopic slides where one frame is the land we thought we understood (owned, perhaps), and the other frame an indifferent infinite existing without concern for the finite. Seen together this evoke mirages, literary decoupages where we are written in and erased out of our own stories. This un-naming is also an inversion of the definition of discovery, asking: what is innate curiosity without the need to dominate what we explore? It is not a question of reverence; it is reverence's question.
These last lines are the few figures that inhabit a painting by Don Olsen. And while the lone explorers of Olsen's are often caught coming in mid-discovery, I believe they are already aware of what feels like a closing statement, "Unhappy is the land that needs a hero" (Galileo). This idea isn't included to erase the steps of The Hero's Journey, rather to remind the reader of that journey's opposite. The Grail Path is a system of inner transformation that is a necessary preface and conclusion of every rewarding expedition. Integration of both births something awe inducing into the mud and into the memory.
- Benjamin Terrell
2023, oil on canvas, 14" x 18"
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).
By John Richardson
John Richardson lives and works in Connecticut and Oregon. He teaches at the University of Connecticut. Richardson's column on the work of Benjamin Terrell coincides with Terrell's show of recent paintings at One Wall Gallery in Eugene, OR.
You can find more of John Richardson's work at johnjrichardsonart.com and on Instagram @johnjrichardsonart.
Benjamin Terrell, 2022, oil and stain on wood panel
Mist is a cloud of water. Molecules of water vapor condense to form suspended droplets. The droplets move laterally, or at times seemingly upward. Not gas and not solid, but a distinct experience. A liquid, that because of its environment, floats.
Mist can occur when a moist body of warm air moves over water and then encounters cooler land. The air temperature drops and mist forms. Often happening at night, or perhaps in the early morning, mist conceals as it allows limited sight. The essential characteristics of a landscape may still be seen, but appear different, altered.
Over the centuries, mist has taken on an emblematic quality, one of blended realities, a dream state, a mysterious occurrence. Most definitely signaling a shift in perception, mist can move slowly, defying the regular expectations of the world it inhabits.
Yet mist is water, and water is a most basic element necessary for all life. Water permeates our world, our bodies, and our daily practices. From nourishment to bathing to cleaning, water is essential. The condition of water is critical. The right amount of water sustains. Too much in the wrong way, drowns. Chuang Tzu wrote, “If there is not sufficient depth, water will not float large ships. Upset a cupful into a hole in the yard, and a mustard-seed will be your boat. Try to float the cup, and it will be grounded, due to the disproportion between water and vessel.”1
Benjamin Terrell’s landscapes may at first glance seem ordinary. They are distinct and specific enough that they must be created from observation and not wholly imagined. Even so, they seem unusual in some subtle way.
With ongoing consideration, rhythmic geometries can be seen. Repeated patterns that probably don’t occur in nature, at least not very often. What do these mean? Like a map where distilled features are conveyed efficiently, the symbolic features of his painting move from being barely noticeable, to a loud whisper, to the only characteristic that matters. These can’t just be idyllic visions, can they?
Like Chuang Tzu’s water, the way in which the painting is perceived determines the quality of the experience of the seeing. And, this seems to be the point. With repeated, careful sitting, the landscapes radiate a calm, firm presence. They hint at a potential revelation that is barely there, that could become available with a little more time. Like a morning mist, the paintings shift our understanding of what may be present. Is something revealed? Concealed? Both? It’s hard to say for sure, but that’s the best reason to keep looking. Floating worlds, outside of time, or at least next to where time starts. Taking the time to see becomes the reason to look. Mist only lasts until the sun comes out. In this I’m reminded of Rumi’s advice, “Don't wait any longer. Dive in the ocean, leave and let the sea be you.”
Benjamin Terrell’s rich vision offers the viewer an invaluable opportunity to stop and to contemplate. Not through escape, but rather by immersion. For this, I am thankful.
- John Richardson, November 21, 2022
1 Chuang Tzu, A Happy Excursion
Mountain and Clouds #3
Benjamin Terrell, 2022, oil and stain on wood panel
Mountain and Clouds #2
Benjamin Terrell, 2022, oil and stain on wood panel
Benjamin Terrell recently wrote the press release for "Here Comes the Suns," curated by Uwe Henneken. He was also invited to exhibit work in the show, which took place at BARK Berlin Gallery in Berlin, Germany from December 10th, 2021 - January 28th, 2022 (on instagram @bark_berlin_gallery).
Oil stain on panel, 9" x 11"
Here Comes the Suns
Everything starts with a circle, like a pond where something emerges from where countless things have taken off and landed. A pond is nearly always round, like the sun or moon or something hung in the house to reflect us to ourselves. A lake is a mountain inverted, but a pond is canvas and cameo to where everything originated. In my neighborhood, in the country, there are two types of walks to take. One, a straight trail where you reach the end and come back past everything you first saw. The second, a circular path where everything is new until you wind up where you began.
Every painting begins as a circle, corners and edges only became important as we imagined ourselves outside or separate from what we attempted to depict. Transformation may take time, but inspiration often arrives in an instant, as unexpected as a single white bird in the center of a large empty grey pond. Ideas too, can arrive opulent and unpredictable as the path of windblown leaves mid-air, or sometimes appear fragile yet furious like the fluttering of a small bird's wings. The heart is a cart kept to collect the fruit of our artistic orchards, both compass and fragile container like a bird's nest. We too bend back resistant branches to protect and encircle what we wish to let emerge.
The cave where creativity is contained is both a circular safe container and a mysterious liminal space, part paradox and part passageway. Art is an artery and also a wounded cocoon that opens reluctantly to our nameless new thresholds. When we allow what is non-essential to sink to the bottom of our consciousness what remains is more clearly able to reflect potential transformation. Seen again, a single white bird floats now on a circle of deep blue. It would be shortsighted to see the blue as the depth of still waters, instead it is an opportunity to understand that color comes from mirroring a limitless sky.
As you read this, infinite orbits spin above us. The truth is, I am expert of nothing but humbled by everything. Maybe the sun is only a hole in the sky that the light gets through, and maybe the moon is actually the sun in a cashmere coat. But everything I know about transformation is because of birds, the bright sounds of bells and the fervent activity of brushes. In my singularity I long for collectivity, connectivity and the words to describe the contents of this room. Perhaps my hesitation to name the bends of life's roller coaster is that doing so will make me more aware of when this ride is coming to an end. A hundred birds flew from a flooded field and you and I are the few who dare to land on the elk's back.
Benjamin Terrell, 2021 (@benjamin_terrell_painting)
Curated by Uwe Henneken (@uwehenneken)
Oil stain on panel, 9" x 11"
Notes of Persistent Awe writer Benjamin Terrell was recently invited to write the press release for "I Walk Thru Walls," the online show featured on Mepaintsme from March 8 - April 18.
The Death of Benign Authority
by JJ Cromer
2021, mixed media on paper, 11" x 8.5"
"Many men drove Magic, but Magic stayed behind. Many strong men lied, they only passed through Magic and out the other side."
- Leonard Cohen
More important than whether you believe in magic is the acknowledgment that magic exists only where there is belief. If one can't imagine a bridge between the visible and the invisible, then such a chasm can never be crossed. More than just a separate world, magic is a "middle" -- much like a life that is lived between the memorable. Magic's marrow is the poetry of the unspoken, the silence of the unsayable, and the ghost in the gap between translations. Magic isn't the mountain itself but rather the realization that the mountain top forms the bottom of an unfathomable sky.
"We are surrounded by the absurd excess of the universe. By meaningless bulk, vastness without size, power without consequence. The stubborn iteration that is present without being felt."
- Jack Gilbert
The artist is the most qualified interpreter of the incantations of our spirit-selves. The unnamable, untethered essence of what is commonly called "spirit" is easy to catch, hard to hold but also almost impossible to portray in a painting due to the finite's inability to define the infinite. Spirit and humans were once Gods, Goddesses, and great things, but because the ones that came before us believed themselves separate, we are caught in a cycle of always relearning and reinterpreting a planet we thought we would leave. Luckily, as the body fades the spirit flourishes and likewise in painting -- when greatness is articulated something transfers from artist to object that will forever reignite in each new viewing.
Every great painting is a postcard to our future selves, but also a breath and bookmark in the middle of our eternal story that is always unfolding. Magic, too, is a necessary pause and punctuation and, in its reflectivity, it removes any illusions of separation. Endings are necessary only for the written word. "Middles" are places where both sides are realized as one -- points of connectivity contracting and expanding. These perpetual places of passage are hallways to the heart and artistic arteries from which flow everything seemingly hidden and everything genuinely revealed.
- Introduction by Benjamin Terrell