"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Painting the World: Conversations with Visual Artists at the Elizabeth Bishop Festival

One of the afternoon events at the Elizabeth Bishop Festival in Great Village, N.S., on 8 August 2015, will be a conversation with four exceptional visual artists: Emma FitzGerald, Carol Laing, Joy Laking and Linda Rae Dornan. This conversation will be moderated by writer and Mount Allison Fine Arts professor Anne Koval. This post profiles Carol Laing, or more particularly, it presents Carol’s artist statement about a fascinating Bishop project that will be on exhibit during the festival in the Elizabeth Bishop House.
Carol in front of her Bishop "ghost drawings"

The Ghost Drawings: Haunting Elizabeth Bishop
18 drawings, graphite on mylar by Carol Laing

At its simplest the series of 18 graphite drawings I call “The Ghost Drawings: Haunting Elizabeth Bishop” is an extended series of ‘Conversation Pieces’ in the art historical sense: small informal scenes with people set indoors or outdoors. Here the scenes — and the people in them — all derive from photographs taken across the arc of Bishop’s life, from babyhood to death. Bishop is a constant, and changing, presence. The people and the locations also change. And because the sources of the drawings are photographs there is a balance between presence and absence: it is as if ‘everything’ becomes level as she — in the drawings — comes back to us. She is an elusive subject ‘caught’ by the camera. The elusive subject who balanced — in her last completed poem Sonnet — being “Caught” and being “Freed.”

The content of the drawings moves from photographic positive to negative formats, and back. There is a play between ‘normal’ and ‘inverted’ values, the darks reversing into lights, and the lights into darks. Their sequencing sometimes telescopes, and sometimes elides time, and time passing. We are in the realm of what John Keats called “negative capability” where what is true is a balance between the factual and “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts.” We are also in the realm of an “unconfined consciousness” that keeps things fluid, and moving. The drawings show an affinity for water and remind us that Elizabeth Bishop was born with the ocean at her door. A restlessness is visible too — and a tension between the desire to travel and a fierce desire to have a home…

I borrowed the word “haunting” from Virginia Woolf’s marvelous 1930 essay “Street Haunting: A London Adventure.” In the essay Woolf walks out into the London streets one evening in winter. Her pretext is to buy “a lead pencil” but the appetite is for life and the world. In the end she finds, and buys, her pencil. I like to think I’ve used one of that pencil’s myriad successors to make “The Ghost Drawings: Haunting Elizabeth  Bishop.” And I remain delighted — and grateful — that I was able to begin these  drawings during an artist’s residency in Elizabeth Bishop’s grandmother’s house.

1 comment: