Sunshine for a Long Midnight
11 June – 5 September 2020
Sunshine for a Long Midnight
The paintings in this exhibition were made during the fall of 2019 through the spring of 2020. When I began working on these paintings, I was thinking of our relationship to nature, and our age of fragility. Nevertheless, this exhibition is taking place now, and the Covid19 pandemic has filled our minds. The work in this exhibition resonates with this moment of crisis, although by accident. It fits for good reason, because the pandemic has laid bare that we are intimately tied to nature – its beauty but also its threats. The overall theme in this selection of works is one of open questions about what we might call our “spiritual” relationship to nature and each other.
This new body of work was painted on silk, as opposed to the linen I favored earlier. The idea of exploring silk came to me years ago after a visit to Hong Kong and Taiwan, an area of the world where silk painting stretches back over 2000 years. Interestingly, the material itself is at the meeting point of nature and humanity. The fabric was originally spun from the cocoons of the mulberry silkworm larvae, an example of an unbalanced partnership between humans and nature, albeit with beautiful results. Indeed, silk’s alluring semi-transparency and ephemerality are what drew me to experiment with it. Painting with acrylic on silk is tremendously demanding, as not much can be hidden on such a delicate surface. The layers of paint in these works have become the thinnest of glazes.
The works in this show explore the kind of light cast by a summer sunset, a light that stretches far into the evening. Light still glows after the sun has gone down behind the horizon line. I have had a long fascination with the light in the prints by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige, and in the paintings by French and Italian painters such Nicolas de Staël, Giotto, and Piero della Francesca. One could argue that light is an active element in these works, just as much as the subject matter.
I have never really considered myself an abstract painter. All my works have been related to very concrete forms and ideas that were based on narratives, real or imagined situations, environments, and symbols. Here, I am working to simplify my language. This group of works includes narratives of figures in transformation or change.
“Ghost Flower” offers a symbol of fragility. Almost childlike, it is actually a skeleton of a flower. This motif is repeated in “Girl Planting.” A girl in her garden attempts to plant flowers that almost disappear before they really begin. Hope and the effort for new growth are perpetual; this farmer continues to plant new seeds. The large work “Tree Hugger” shows an abstracted skeletal figure merging with the top of a pine tree that is radiating light. While the expression “tree hugger” is often used negatively, I wanted to reclaim this term to reflect its original, literal sense – someone attempting to save a tree, a positive action. In “The Patient,” one figure with a mask-like face leans over another. It is threatening, but I also wanted to convey a feeling of tenderness. Below the chins of the figures, you can see an arm with a hand on both ends, the two figures linked intimately.
For me, the process of painting is participation in the present. And in our present moment of “fear and trembling,” we are renegotiating our fragile relationship not only to nature but also to each other.
Michael Markwick, May 2020
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