Updated: May 7
Neurosurgeon, Leonard Shlain, was stumped by a question his daughter asked as they stood before an abstract painting. The girl stated that basically she didn't get it. That simple
comment launched Shlain on a journey that led to his book, Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light. One of the conclusions Shlain drew is this: "When time comes to change a paradigm - to renouce one bedrock truth and adopt another - the artist and the physicist are most likely to be in the forefront." While artist, Jill Spear, uses her studies of figure drawing and landscape painting as part of her "ongoing art education," her expression communicated to the outside world, however, is in the form of abstract painting. Her desire is to transport the viewers of these works to a place they had not been before. This is not unlike modern physics, which has presented the world with completely new concepts of things we normally think of as simple, like space, time, and light. It takes the mind on a journey into new territory. Modern physics teaches that an observed system is disturbed by the act of observation. Thus objective reality, like painted abstract expression, is seen through the filter of each person's temperament and thus allows for many different journeys of personal discovery.
"I am usually painting a series based on a concept inspired by the texture and essence of life on earth." Jill Spear
Texture and essence of life - those are important terms. Textures come in all kinds of forms. Nature makes them all the time from piles of leaves and twigs, from rocks and sand on a beach, or from an accumulation of the bodies of little sea creatures on the floor of the ocean. In Crustacean Landscape, Spear moves us in the direction of an underwater experience to see the beauty of the earth's natural processes that we don't normally consider. This painting is both a macrocosmic and microcosmic view. We can see it in the grand scale that we call landscape, or as an under the microscope view of some tiny group of organisms. Spear's technique of pouring acrylic paint onto paper or canvas allows for the creation of these layers that sometimes partially resist one another, or sometimes combine with one another, just as an accumulation of decaying shells morph into strange shapes as part of their process of returning to the earth. Here that morphing process becomes a landscape of fragments and filaments of many colors that overlay one another to create a crusty, textured surface of beautiful colors in intricate formations.
"The work I produce is usually a series I work on for one to five years, with resting places, between, consisting of observing society, beauty, and living life, while practicing drawing the figure and landscape." Jill Spear
It is easy to imagine that a work like Art Deco Pod would be a work to ponder over a number of years. Its complexity in terms of colors and variations thereof mix with the fine network of lines that spread out in all directions like nerves in a membrane. The areas where these filaments layer themselves in density resemble distant aerial views of city streets that form the nervous system of urban life. The word "pod" in the title adds something of a sci-fi aspect to this creation. However, does it come from outer space or inner space? Is this pod a self-contained reality that once accessed opens a new reality to the viewer? Shlain says, "When the artist's vision, rooted in the right hemisphere, combines with precognition, art will prophesy the future conception of reality." If we learned to read this cellscape, brainscape, landscape of a painting, would it take us to a future reality? Quite possibly.
While Art Deco Pod takes on a complex inner journey that can lead wherever the mind takes it, the painting here, A River's Journey, presents an imagined aerial view of a river as it cuts its way through a terrain. We recognize that blue line that widens and narrows as it makes its way through a landscape of complex tectonics that determine which way it twists and turns, whether it is broad and flat or deep in a high-walled canyon. It is a waterway of life, a river of the kind where the first human civilizations planted themselves and thrived. Its journey is that of our ancestors, regardless of the continents they settled. The river's journey is our journey through human history and survival on this planet. Be it the Nile, the Tigris, the Amazon, the Danube, the Mississippi. or the Huang He, we must bless the rivers, as they have so often blessed us. In this painting, we are made to think of the power and importance of the river as symbol of our own life's journey, even as we enjoy the colorful beauty of the image before us.
"A music lover once told me she typically loved classical music because it brought her to places she had not been to, that might not exist, to an experience that was larger than her environment. She said that's why she liked my painting so much and that's what my paintings did for her." Jill Spear
Spear says that the comment above opened her thinking to consider doing more of these paintings that transport people to places they had not been to before. That comment from the woman viewing Spear's painting was one of the "unexpected outcomes" that Spear has come to accept as one of the beauties of her life as an artist. Her early life in Cleveland, Ohio, allowed her to go to the Cleveland Museum of Art, where a wise museum guard noticed her looking intently at a large painting with an atmosphere she felt she could step into. He told her to take a few minutes to really look. After her long look, the guard told her it was a Helen Frankenthaler painting and explained the process that artist used to make it.
It would be a memory that stayed with Spear even though as she went through school, it seemed that a future as a history teacher or librarian lay before her. However, another wise person, a high school art teacher, planted the idea in her head that she could be a designer. Spear took that idea and like a journey on a river, she managed to keep it in mind through the course of her life until she got a BFA. Even then she did not take her degree's minor in painting too seriously. That happened after her move to Colorado Springs and participation in an exhibition from a group of painters called Chromatic Edge founded by Mary Anne Bransby, wife of painter Eric Bransby. Spear then spent many years studying in the Eric Bransby Atelier, even apprenticing to Eric Bransby on a mural project now installed in the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. This association with the Eric and Mary Anne Bransby was key to her development as an artist, as she continued work in the figure drawing and landscape painting that inform her abstract work. All of this moved her firmly into a life as a painter.
When looking at Spear's life, it would seem that art is indeed a spiritual imperative not unlike the biological imperative represented in the painting above. The painting seems to indicate a cluster of plants, perhaps flowers, buds, and blooms that have willed themselves to manifest outside of what would be considered their normal terrain. They appear almost as a counterargument to a cold linear structure on the right that reaches into the blue only to be confronted by this natural organism that insists upon having its life, too. As the blossoms and buds fall into the area of linear structure, the viewer gets the meaning of the title. Life has a biological imperative to live regardless of where. Here the organic makes a lovely appearance in a wild tumble of color, but with the same determination as weeds that grow up in the cracks in the cement.
"Art is a great teacher. It brings me focus and teaches me to invest my mind and my energy in a situation, to accept the beauty of unexpected as well as expected outcomes in my work and in my life." Jill Spear
Working in poured acrylic paint takes a level of mastery that keeps the expected outcome in mind while it simultaneously accommodates the unexpected. The fluidity of that situation not only in material but in concept is heightened by the subject matter in the two paintings below: fish in the sea.
The painting on the left is called Lyretail, one of the names of a fish also known as a sea goldie. The golden orange colors move through the mixed blues of the background like a school of these swift little fish swimming over and under one another in the beautiful waters of the coral reefs where they are normally found. In the piece to the right, Sushi to Go, we see the fish swimming in the swift current that tumbles and swirls down the length of the painting. They scramble and dodge, but a long slash of yellow descends like a spear to engage the fin of one of the fish whose tail is also enmeshed in the yellow filaments of what might be a net. The other fish appears to escape for the moment. Will it be able to descend into the swift current that swirls away, or will it also get caught in that yellow filiment and become sushi to go? Life, as always, is fluid and full of chance, even for fish.
"Society needs art. It may bring us some sense of beauty or familiarity we desire for a sense of respite. It may document history or bring an issue humanity is not yet ready to address, to the public's attention in a more accessible or relatable way than other forms of communication." Jill Spear
Society does indeed need art. In fact, it really cannot rid itself of art, though at times it tries to diminish its importance. Art is as much a part of who humans are as any of our bodily needs and functions. It is as Spear says a form of communication and one that presents issues in relatable, accessible ways. When we have those moments when we feel like we can walk into a painted atmosphere or into the soul of the person in a portrait, we are being talked to by those painted images about who we are as people, and it can change us. On a higher level, as Shlain points out "revolutionary art and visionary physics are both investigations into the nature of reality." The nature of reality and how we create it with the conscious application of our energy are the paramount teachings it seems of both art and physics. We are lucky to be so powerful.
Jill Spear has had a one-woman show and lectured at Tiffin University in Ohio. Her work has been included in the corporate collection at Kaiser Permanente's Briargate Senior Health Center. She shows her work in Colorado Springs, Colorado. For more on Jill Spear and her art, see https://www.jillmspearfinearts.com
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© Marjorie Vernelle 2021