Laura Paddock

North, East, South, & West Hand
Hobgoblin   •    pothole series    •   necklace paintings
North, East, South, & West Hand
These paper mache wall hangings are faced with patterned papers from bazaars in Karachi, Pakistan where I visited last January. Magnetically attached are sea charts salvaged from their ship breaking yards. These I have mapped over with graphite drawings of a surprising desert blossom discovered on an inland hike.

As the form of the flower skims the perimeter of the islands and navigational lines, so our hands register our experience, our endeavors and even influence our choices, our skills and our reception by others. They are our primary interactive tools. Sculpturally they have embodied grace and sacriment, warning and welcome.

The drawings, like the hands, are alike but not the same; variations on a theme. Their interchangeability symbolizes options and choice. For me survival entails daring, will and endurance. Travel tests our ability to handle the unknown. Then again, it is said, that we only see what we recognize. The exotic is a draw just outside ourselves.

It is a scary honor to have the opportunity to present in New York work I made this January in Pakistan during a residency near the ship wrecking beaches of Gadani, Baluchistan. The imagery was derived from a gothic-style planter in my parent's Westchester garden of which I had brought photos to initiate my own investigation of materials in a foreign land. I had wanted to make mixed-media paintings with local patterns and reflective surfaces. In that landscape and situation, the planters became talismanesque lion guardians as we artists remained under armed protection and curfew in the tribally jurisdictioned desert by the Arabian sea.

In our current crisis, these timeless faces become more complicated and important. The links of chain which allude to their nautical provenance also imply our positioning on this planet, inescapably connected and inter-dependent. The charm bracelet formation of this seasonally titled "hobgoblin" series further ennunciaties the historical and symbolic habit of souvenir adornment as a metaphor for artistic process and influence. Our experiences and exposures build and become an increasingly intricate balance of identity and meaning, subjectivity and exposure.

The installation is meant to reflect layers of conscious and imaginary experiance as well as travel and inspiration through cultures and eras. These small paintings which I returned with in my suitcase first became sculptures in an exhibit this May in Los Angeles, where I hung them as large necklaces on the mannequins in a boutique. Here I have woven them together, integrating the pencil-drawn with the collected, the gifted; bought and borrowed, accumulated from Upstate New York, Karachi bazaars, Maple Avenue in Los Angeles and Canal Street here in NYC.

The Pothole Series, c-prints,1999-2000, pairs a phenomenon of nature: a giant blossom, the reflection of clouds in a pothole; with a figure. The figure represents the traditional icon of the female. Here she is associated symbolically with nature (mystery, fertility and beauty) and ideologically with the artist, as creator, worker, witness, organizer, architect and even magician or alchemist. Ambiguities of male/female, sorcerer/dunce, finished/unfinished and chance/contrivance abound.

The dyptichs are arranged to scale the primary colors in monochromes interspersed with secondary accent props of green fields, purple scarves and orange hats. A pictorical quote after Edward Steichen centerpieces the series. The image, reframed and colorized, derives from the very same Mamaroneck, New York woods I ran around in nearly a century later. This reference allows me to acknowledge my predecessors and to reveal the continuity of experience, temporal transcendence and persistence of sensibility.

The group of five composite photographs is book ended by two shots of different skies reflected in the same pothole. As in the Buddhist philosophy of the lotus blooming out of the mud, the heavens are seen on the ground, the sublime in the basic, visionary, fleeting, engendered by the decomposition of matter; reseen and re-presented.

This is perspective and chance. Luck. Magic. Audience, heroism, figure versus landscape, awe and silence are some of the themes I tried to encompass in these couplets, also, reflection as a metaphor for memory and its properties of reversal, cycle and illusion. The hats serve to bring these images away from the snapshot. To reveal the purposeful code wherein the broom is a conjuring stick and a paintbrush that clears the path for viewing fresh ideas and for passage. The flowers pictured, it should be noted, are the wild digitalis or foxglove, and the corpse flower, or Sumatran Arum that blooms but once every hundred years, and only in the company of another.

These five "necklace paintings" started this Winter while I was participating in an international artists residency in Pakistan. We were in the desert West of Karachi in a remote area on the South coast used for stripping out ocean liners. I wanted to use the time to get back into painting, after spending a year printing color photography. I'd imported photos of my parents' garden on the Hudson River back in New York State, which had a catalystic correspondence to the natural beauty, mystery and symbolism of my new surroundings. I left with a suitcase full of small works on paper encrusted with the atmosphere: rugged, bleached and windswept; and with momentos from the congested markets: fruit- colored plastic bicycles, small tinted mirrors, earring findings and blue sequins. Since returning to Los Angeles, I have chained and further bejeweled the works with local materials. They've become large necklaces.

A huge satisfaction was recognized via the landscape itself, familiar to me through traditional miniature painting yet clouded by the interpretations of armchair art historians. Theorists claim that the conventions of perspective in that genre were narrative contrivances instead of accurate depictions of the kooky convoluted, mauve-pink rock formations that do actually crash into the beautiful blue Arabian sea. These crystal-sprinkled rocks do steeply rise and then snake their way into the open desert, dotted with sinewy acacias, a camel, a leading man or two, and flagged sufi shrines nestled in the crevices like captured birds. A fiction materialized by presence alone, a validation of direct experience, an underscoring of artistic license and a victory for visual language.

I was also shocked and impressed by our tribally conscripted armed guards. Baluchistani customs revealed the cultural distance that I had traveled and at the same time echoed the vulnerability of all of us, wherever we live. In reaction, little gold plastic guns from the bazaar found their way onto the patterned papers I had sandwiched into the ground of my own particular vasl for my images. Vasl is the ground miniature painters prepare by layering papers and burnishing them.

The multi-national composition of the participants further emphasized the journey-nature of the residency. Hearing about the political and moral restrictions placed on artists in other lands during our talks, and receiving the response to the work I presented from Los Angeles, helped me to clarify my own artistic motivations and methods. Issues of appropriation, inspiration and motif, interpretation and the social dynamics of these cross-cultural fertilizations became more complex and specific.

-- Laura Paddock