Our second assignment of the semester was ‘Large Work, Small Parts’, in which we were to create an artwork that was made up of smaller pieces. While I was interested in creating a large work out of many smaller individual objects that were put together – a path I’d like to explore at some point – I knew, due to time constraints, that I would need to be a little less ambitious for this initial assignment. The pieces we looked at in class by Simon Evans and Sarah Lannan intrigued me, whether it was their found object collages or the two-part Expensive Stains and Poor Stains.
I began thinking about how I could have many small life-size objects painted onto a single canvas and my initial idea was a continuation of some small studies from ART240. I really enjoyed painting the M&M’s and gummy bears, and I thought it would be interesting to paint lines of various candies on a canvas for the assignment. I spent all weekend thinking about what candies I would include and how I would lay it out, but for some reason I couldn’t get the image of sunflower seeds out of my head. I kept picturing Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds and thinking about how, for my entire life, I’ve seen my dad eat sunflower seeds while working outside in the summer. So, as much as I enjoyed painting the candy last semester and would certainly like to do more in the future, I knew I had to do something with the seeds that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
After making the connection to sunflower seeds and my childhood, I began picturing other small things that filled that environment and perhaps went unnoticed at the time, but I can still remember clearly – cattails in the swamp across from my childhood home contrast the wild rice and blue dashers of living on the northwoods lake in my teens. I remember watching fat bumblebees fly around our yard in the hazy summers, common grey moths sneaking into the house after dark, and the perpetual garden ants and Daddy Longlegs. I always loved woolly bear caterpillars and how they’d curl into a ball in your palm while you examined their stripes, remembering the old wives’ tale about the size of their band indicating the harshness of the coming winter, but forgetting exactly how it went. Other seeds serve as another touchstone – maple samaras, fern spores, acorns, and pinecones – and the background recalls the paper birch trees that lived on the edges of our yard.
Ideally, I would have liked to make this piece much larger and filled with many more bugs and seeds, but for the sake of time I toned down my vision; this is something I would like to explore further sometime soon, however. I see connections between this piece and my last painting assignment in both the actual composition and the concepts behind it. Both feature fairly white backgrounds and more representational images with a bit of an illusory twist – in this one, some bugs and seeds appear to rest on the surface of the canvas, while others occupy a different depth yet the same space. Conceptually, there are threads between the ideas of preservation in the natural world explored in my last painting and the idea of regeneration via seeds in this one. Likewise, individual insects may have short lifespans, yet their species have persisted for hundreds of thousands of years. There is a feeling of timelessness in the natural world, a sense of antiquity and consistency which I explore in much of my work, and this piece was no exception.
Bugs and Seeds (2018)