Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Essentialism

I mentioned yesterday my friend the artist Maria Simonds-Gooding, who presently has a wonderful retrospective at the Blasket Interpretive Centre in Dunquin. Maria arrived here on the Dingle Peninsula a few years before our first visit in 1972 and quickly made it her permanent home. What most immediately grasped her imagination were the field patterns in the spare landscape, some of them reaching back thousands of years into the past, mere hints of former cultivation. Her interest was not political; nothing of the tumultuous history of Ireland. Rather, what concerned her was the age-old negotiation of humans with their environment. Huddled habitations. Fields scratched from rocky soil. Animal enclosures.

Her early works were representational, in the sense that one recognized the subjects. But they were also infused with a spiritual energy that took them beyond "realism."

As the years passed, her work evolved toward greater "simplicity." Fields and habitations were gestured by a few lines and irregular geometrical shapes. Even pigment faded away as she began working with large "canvases" of white and off-white plaster. Without titles, a viewer might not know the subject. For myself, I began to look at the landscape in a new way, seeing what Maria saw. Seeing the feeble human touch on the land that represents the tentative beginnings of cultivation -- and civilization. Not minimalism, but essentialism. Here is a print that I own, called "Inner Boundary."


Maria's works now reside in major collections worldwide.

Where will she go from here? She has begun working on large sheets of polished aluminum, scratching and etching -- a few lines, a patch of stippling. These works are powerful in their tendency toward silence, which is, after all, the only proper response to a powerfully felt presence in nature that in its almost religious intensity overwhelms shape, color, texture, line.