Rivers (2009)

Hand-sanded topographic maps
Series of 11 drawings, each 27” x 22”

I created this series of 11 works on paper during a 4-week artist residency at the Ucross Foundation in Clearmont, Wyoming, in September 2009. I arrived at my residency without a defined project in mind, knowing that I wanted to respond to that specific natural environment and my experience there. I was stirred by the arid beauty and sense of solitude. In a local store, I bought topographic maps of Wyoming, carefully choosing those with certain rivers running through them. Back at my studio, I slowly erased much of the surface of the maps with handheld sandpaper, removing the dotted grid lines and brown concentric circles depicting mountains, and leaving only the watery areas of the map intact—rivers, creeks, and some small ponds. The sanded paper gained an airy texture, seeming to echo the arid environment of Northeast Wyoming, while the untouched rivers retained a glassier, watery smoothness and took on a more powerful presence as they meandered across the whitened, emptied page. The subtractive, somewhat destructive process created new images, which viewers have described as beautiful and haunting “drawings” of rivers.

As the Rivers series came together, I read Gretel Ehrlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces, a book about the author’s experiences in Wyoming, and felt an affinity with this passage: “The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as the earth: weather would land on it harshly; light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding… the lessons of impermanence taught me this: loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness; despair empties out into an unquenchable appetite for life.”