Statement about the Paintings of 2014–2015
My present paintings of mountains and sea are vistas of memory — our America the beautiful. They are meant to glorify our land and honor those people who first lived upon it.
The ocean paintings are based on trips to the Newport, Rhode Island area, primarily Aquidneck Island. I have been visiting the Atlantic shore all of my life, but never thought it possible to actually paint it. I decided to try, since we go there rather often and I find it very beautiful, especially off-season. And besides, I needed a challenge. We are not summer visitors – but fall and winter birds. We walk the beaches bundled up for the blustery winds. I sketch and take photos, then pore over both when we return home. I love the muted colors — I love the sea air, the feel of it and smell of it. I would like these paintings to convey that feeling of the sea, as well as the look of it.
In 2014 my husband, Dirk, and I visited Nevada and Eastern California to see the Sierra Nevada mountains and their magnificent majesty. They are truly quite overwhelming. The geology of that part of our country is fascinating, “newly” formed by great volcanic eruptions that have created huge fissures and jagged peaks.
We were there only a brief time, and it isn’t “my” land yet. I don’t own it intellectually or visually the way I feel I “own” the mountains of the southwest, or the waters of the east coast. These are different mountains — awesome and foreboding.
I began these paintings thinking that they would become a kind of cloud atlas, describing the clouds over the ocean and the mountains. I am now living in an area where I can see the sky — unlike my other city homes where the sky was always a tiny bit of blue (or white) above the tall trees and buildings. Now that I can see the sky, I am much more aware of it everywhere I go. And the skies over the Atlantic Ocean and the Sierra Nevadas are often spectacular. Yet the more I painted, the more important became the mountains and sea themselves. And the sky took its appropriate place as our great back-drop. Our lovely metaphor for the future, for heaven, for beauty, for goodness, for home and for eternity.
Changes in my art work are usually seen first in my drawings. For instance, in 2002, I was making works on paper from a single viewpoint yet single image landscape didn’t appear in my paintings until 2006. These works I showed at June Kelly Gallery in 2007, and include pieces like “Wallowa Mountain Memory, Variation” and “Our Land.” Many of them included patterns or figures on a separate panel, although there was one painting in that show that represent nothing but the landscape “Hear the Voices.” In the Ramapo River Series of 2009, there is often a panel which is a flat gold leaf field. There is nothing else, so that the gold replaces the patterns or abstract shape, and refers to a similar kind of separate understanding of space. It is an eternal space rather than a conventional space.
Today, most of my paintings could be described as a single viewpoint landscape, usually with an additional pattern as in the past which is often integrated into the landscape. What do these changes represent?
My painting is not “alla prima.” It isn’t made in one energetic outpouring of paint. It is, by contrast, deliberate and resolved, like a great meal cooked by a chef. There is a strong belief in current visual art circles that a work is finished, if it conveys the desired idea no matter how rough or “unfinished” it may be. The concept outweighs the thing. In my work that is not the case and never has been. The idea is only a part of the whole and is supported and enriched by the thing (the painting) itself. It is, to use an old phrase, form shaped by content, not content alone. I care very much about how something is made. I care about the craft of painting. The ideas expressed in my earlier statement are not replaced by these thoughts, in fact my stated goals remain. In addition, the idea of beauty has become more and more important to me over the years and I want to engage the viewer in that beauty. I also want them to see my primary message in the work, that is: This is our beloved land, no matter who walks here, no matter who “owns” it. This is our land. Recognize us and honor this land. (2012)
Crested Butte, Colorado, 2009
initially painted landscape in the mid 1980s. My question then
was, what does landscape visually imply? What does the earth convey
to us metaphorically, and how can I use this visual trope to express
my personal take on our late 20th c. experience? I continue to
explore these questions but their meanings have seemed to change
as I change. Some years ago I realized that the landscapes
depicted in my paintings had become a stand-in for my body, especially
in works like “Four
Directions/Stillness” and “Venere
Alpina”. Although, all painting is a portrait of the
artist to some extent, once I had come to this understanding of
body, I felt justified to include figures in my work. The move
to figures seemed inevitable although I hadn’t depicted
humans in my paintings for many years. In fact, their absence
had seemed crucial to the significance of the work. It had been
the uninhabited landscape I had sought in relation to the eternal.
In my present work it is the golden skies that refer to the eternal,
and therefore the paintings remain about the unknowable –
I spent extended periods in Rome in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2003.
While in Italy, I sketched the Italian Alps as well as the classic
sculpture and painting. In ‘98 I also had the honor of closely
examining an Aztec Codex in the Vatican Library. I was seeing
figurative art everywhere as well as admiring the landscape. The
Alps are different in appearance from our Rockies, but they were
nevertheless sacred to their original inhabitants and like all
mountains embody chthonic energy in their skyward thrust.
One of the constants in my artwork is the emphasis on touch, which
is sometimes expressed through the material itself, and other
times through the image that suggests the physical feel of a body
or a place. The memory of touch, that kinesthetic memory of how
touch feels is a part of our mind’s imaging of physical
activity. Touch is suppressed in our western culture to our great
loss, for it is a basic human need. The earlier paintings have
a dense acrylic and wax surface on one side, and oil on the other,
both of which I painted with my hands. Today I am using a very
loose oil paint applied with brushes but the message continues
to be as much in the paint surface as in the imagery.
The idea of two parts working together in a dialogue has also
remained interesting to me. I have often puzzled over the reason
for my continued fascination. Primarily, the diptych is an especially
powerful metaphor to express the beauty and power of uniting the
disparate and this makes it particularly attractive to those of
us who are biracial. But it is also a useful construct to express
the conflicts and bivalence of everyone’s life. So there
is a duality implied even when the work is not physically a diptych
as in “ACEA
VIII” or “Il
Another constant is the filter of memory which simplifies and
focuses content. The landscape is based on site sketches and photos,
and the figures from imagination, so these are neither a depiction
of a specific place nor an activity, but a suggestion of how a
place and an activity would feel. They describe a psychological
My paintings take a broad view of what constitutes Native American
Art. My wish has been to express our Native & non-native shared
identity. We humans of all races are more alike than different,
and it is this shared heritage, as well as my personal heritage
I wish to express. I want all people to hold onto their cultures
– they are precious – but I also want to encourage
a mutual recognition of shared being. My goal has always been
to paint about who I am as a 20th/21st century artist, and also
as a Native American. My thoughts on our native history filled
my work for many years. Today, I deal with feelings and thoughts
common to all. I would hope that these paintings encourage the
viewer to see our shared humanity in all of its gritty, frightening,
awkward, sexy, funny and beautiful commonality.
WalkingStick lives in Easton, PA, with the artist Dirk
and text © Kay WalkingStick 2010
Any use without written permission from Kay WalkingStick
is strictly prohibited.