PLACE AS BIOGRAPHY
Cedartown, Georgia — summers on Cave Spring Street where my grandmother and great aunts lived — playing in the hose under the huge shade tree, the baby robin in the matchbox; the uneven sidewalk and the always stubbed toes. The smell of crushed weeds and the sweet pungence of the Casey's barnyard; this White child from the North, her mother working among the Black mothers and their children in our community, early 1960's.
New York City — our apartment that would fill with piano music from my father's playing, nightly for hours after supper that took me into sleep, its beauty greatest in the wake of their worst arguing, his music a vessel to hold the tensions of a gay man's closeted life. The apartment that would fill with the fun of their parties, all laughter and friendship and diversity and realness. The fourth floor apartment with rattling windows where I learned to grow plants on the east window sill turning my bedroom into a jungle and through it watching the windows on the buildings across town turn orange in the setting sun. Central Park where we went sledding and picnic-ed, once my mother letting me walk barefoot the whole way back to the apartment. And where we caught sunnies in Lake Belvedere with worms dug from the leaf duff by the playground and brought the fish home for our aquarium. And when I was old enough, riding my bike cross town through the Park to school and then all over Manhattan Island as if my bicycle were wings.
Under my mother's desk — When I was very young and small enough to sit under my mother's desk, I discovered the Lascaux cave paintings. My mother was a cultural anthropologist and she had been in the caves after WWII. While she was grading exams above me, I became lost in one of her books — a large, soft cover catalog with many photos and drawings documenting the cave art. I remember every detail: the smell of the book; the simultaneous experience of recognition and mystery; the way the glassine sheets between the pages made the images even more magical, a shroud I could lift and lower veiling and unveiling the images; the shadowy light; my mother's stocking-ed legs in this secret room beneath her desk; her disembodied gentle voice answering every question this child had about the caves, the animals, about time; my imagination feverish, creating a story that was also real.
Mexico — 1967, my first foreign travel, mesmerized every moment — the shape of clouds, the weight of heat, the coolness of tile on bare feet, the colossal scale of Mayan temples alive with iguanas and stories, the pungent brine of the Gulf water, the sparkling colored light in the glass shops in Mexico City, the shop keeper who gave me 3 amethyst crystals in a turquoise velveteen pouch and a pair of wooden castanets, in a taberna with walls the deepest red and the taste of sangria.
Truro, Massachusetts — the smell of March sun on my skin and through the fine blades of meadow grass imagining the world a bug might see. Unshod the whole time, feeling the textures of crushed shell, hot macadam, pine needles, and the difference between bay sand and ocean sand. And because they were there, exploring the groves and dunes and marsh with no structure but the natural ones — tides, daylight, hunger, kinship. Refuge.
Biabou, St. Vincent, West Indies— 1972, my first semester of high school accompanying my mother on her fieldwork, not attending school and instead, coming to see the 'first' world through a new lens and becoming a citizen of the larger human ecosystem. Going around the village with Virol who showed me how to roast ground nuts and make cassava flour. Returning to my homeland unable to understand it.
Warwick, New York — knowing Luther Barrett: farmer, farrier, a wise man of few words, rooting my growing interest in the back to the land movement of the mid 70's and the wisdom of old ways.
Beginning in Istanbul, Turkey — instead of going to my college graduation in 1984, and heading south along the coast, riding the night bus to Ephesus and beyond. Crossing the Aegean to Chania, Crete. A flight from Athens to London then on to Wales and finding St. David's. Overland across England to the Scottish Highlands by train and on up to Orkney Island. West to Glasgow and over to Northern Ireland coming into Larne, hitch hiking north to Bally Gally and beyond for the last weeks of this solo sojourn. Mostly given a place to stay and the warmth and kinship of others, giving in return garden work or other labor or child care or simply friendship and stories, staying for days or weeks immersed in place and relationship before moving on
South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe — in the bush with a group of naturalists near the end of the second millennium, considering several endangered species, the loss of wilderness, and the troubled interface between nature and culture... this became the lens through which I also observed the artifact of my failing marriage. The carmine bee eaters and the marula blossoms in the Okavango Delta, the tall endless sky at Umfolozi, the massive acacias at Hwange became my measure
Florence, Italy — the juxtaposition of the international contemporary art scene with the oldness of place and people. Staying at Podere La Casellina, Sylvia and Michelangelo's agriturismo with babies, cats, and friends around the kitchen hearth in December
Ireland — exploring the west coast from the Bearra Pennisula of Co. Cork northward to Donegal in September. Learning the colors of the place—silver, green, ochre, wine—and the texture of the rain and the ancient stones
Tuscany, Italy — returning four years later in 2009 for an exhibition and the grape harvest at Michelangelo and Sylvia's again, crushing the grapes by foot, and exploring the hill towns
Swift Run Farm, Albemarle County, Virginia — a sanctuary of field, wood, and river and a largeness that could hold me. It became my family's place in the late 1970's and it became the place where I made my life and grew my language and practice as an artist for two decades. It was the place of such intimacy made extraordinary, caring for my mother and father through their deaths 13 months apart. When loss of my family to death and other endings had taken all they could, my own tethers to the home and studio I had made dissolved. 2017
The Pleiades, High Falls, New York — in October 2019 I moved into my new home — an evolution of the live/work space I had built in Virginia twenty years earlier at Swift Run Farm. Life moves in spirals; I was home again, uncovering a sanctuary beneath the briar thickets of long abandoned farmland and the ancestral land of the Lenape people. With the promise to return more than I had taken through construction, habitat is now returning to this once torn land beyond what I imagined could happen in a year. I grow vegetables again and move as breath through the sanctuary. Exhale: studio through living space into garden to the wildness that holds it. Inhale: passing through the membranes of this life giving space on Earth into studio.