Elizabeth Ann Dark

Elizabeth Ann Dark is a writer from Nashville, Tennessee. Currently she lives in Mount Vernon, Ohio where she works at Paragraphs Bookstore and teaches writing courses at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Her essays have appeared in Ruminate Magazine, Blue Bear Review and Penmarks Journal. Her essay "If You Want It to Last . . ." received second place in Ruminate Magazine's 2015 Vandermey Nonfiction Prize. While pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Ashland University, she is completing a book of essays.

The Day That Often Isn’t

“There are the stars—doing their old, old criss-cross journeys in the sky…this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain’s so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest.” —Stage Manager, Our Town

Today is my 10th birthday, and I turn 40. I am a Leap Day baby. Generally speaking, this strange fact has always worked in my favor. Once people know it, they rarely forget it, and while birthday greetings might wane during the three years between leap years, I achieve a sort of celebrity status on the years there is a February 29th. I believe I could make a fairly strong case that, at least in the areas of recognition and popularity, Leap Day is the absolute best day of birth to have. But, of course, there are aspects of it that have always bothered me.

A few weeks ago I spent a Sunday afternoon in front of Agnes Martin’s Wind at the Columbus Museum of Art. This work looks like a penciled grid of thin vertical and horizontal lines—like a narrow calendar grid that, rather than just one month, encompasses an entire life or two. Were it that, which I know it is not, I wondered how it would account for time’s refusal to fit into a nice, reliable grid of our own making. 

Creating a visual vocabulary for time is an immemorial conundrum. Nothing will suffice. We’re all familiar with timelines, but this means of visual representation is just a little over 250 years old. Until the mid-18th century chronologists used complicated tables, charts, and matrices of varying forms to convey the passing of time visually. The timeline offered a needed simplification, but it is problematic. We make a line to represent time, and then we hash mark a point on it and name it with a title of an unacceptably short length that we can fit on a diagonal just above or below it. We take events, narratives packed with details and lives and emotions, and we cliff note them into a phrase. Monumental moments like births, deaths, weddings, wars and treaties are marked briefly, but all of the events leading up to and following them are left out. Their significance and context are left out. We all know this.

Even further removing life from cumbersome specificity, we bracket years and file them away as “Civil War,” “Renaissance,” or “BC” or “CE”. Yes, there is a practical purpose to this well-established practice of recording our histories, but it comes with the caveat that we must always remember more is going on within any moment of time than we can possibly recognize, much less remember or know.

And to go even further, let’s remember that before we put any of our own experiences within time, we have to go about creating calendars and clocks that will help us conceptualize it. But even those, with their long history of some of the most complicated math the human mind can muster, have to be adjusted so we can stay in sync with our seasons. The real clock is our solar system. Our time pieces are just meager attempts to capture what is going on up there and display it on our wrists, mantles and walls.

“So do you celebrate on the 28th or the 1st?”

This is almost always the first response when someone learns my birthdate. It’s as predictable as a new time traveler’s reaction upon entering the Doctor’s spaceship/time machine, the TARDIS (short for “Time and Relative Dimension in Space”) in the BBC’s famous sci-fi show, Doctor Who. On the outside, the TARDIS looks like a 1960’s London police box, but on the inside it is infinite in size, going on and on and on and on. No one ever sees the entire thing. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, newcomers will walk through the creaking doors of the TARDIS and begin stumbling upon their words, but eventually they will get it out, “…It’s bigger on the inside!” Every time.

In a recent episode, the Doctor was allowed to enter his own TARDIS incognito. His companion didn’t recognize him, and so, realizing the opportunity he was walking into, the doctor paused before stepping in and smirked, “Finally. It’s my go.” He begins his reaction with the usual line, and then he carries on in true, Shakespearean fashion, dramatic arm gestures and all, “My entire understanding of physical space has been transformed! Three dimensional Euclidean geometry has been torn up, thrown in the air, and snogged to death!! My grasp of the universal constants of physical reality has been changed…forever.” Then he turns toward the camera and says, “Sorry. I’ve always wanted to see that done properly.”

I am not sure what the proper response to the Leap Year phenomenon should be, but as I am one of those born on the day that often isn’t, I think about it a lot. The question, “So do you celebrate on the 28th or the 1st?” always seems like the wrong question. Neither day satisfies. On the 28th my birthday has not yet happened, and on the 1st it’s a thing of the past. Visually, it occurred somewhere within the thin line between the boxes of the two dates on the calendar grid. Were the hash mark “My Birthday” looking for a place to land on my timeline during those non-Leap years, it would be rebuffed. On a timepiece, the moment occurs somewhere between a tick and a tock. The real question seems to be, “How do you recognize something of such significance when it’s not allotted even an actual second?” And suddenly, my birthday only serves as an easy example of something that is happening all the time.

On the plaque next to Agnes Martin’s Wind is a quote from Martin, “…perfection can’t be found in something so rigid as geometry. You have to go elsewhere for that, in between the lines.” So now I am a tiny version of myself trespassing into Martin’s painting. I am walking around on it, walking through the days, hopping from space to space, moment to moment. I imagine the pencil lines as cracks that perhaps I could wriggle into. On those years where I am not allotted a vertically oriented rectangular space, maybe I could alter the grid and make one. Or better yet, maybe I could do this for any moment that needs more time for recognition, not just my silly birthday. If I could squeeze myself into one of the lines, maybe I could press against the days or hours, claim a space, and expand the crack through which, to borrow from Leonard Cohen, the light could get in. I could conjure up the strength of Samson and make it…bigger on the inside. I could twenty-four hour a second.

I recently enjoyed a performance of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town at Kenyon College. I’d read the play a number of times, but I don’t think I’d ever seen it performed in a theatre, and was fascinated with the way it lends itself to both speeding time up and slowing time down. It is divided into three acts between which a number of years are implied and summarized, or “timelined” if you will, by the stage manager. But in this particular adaptation of the play, time is occasionally slowed down within an act. The actors pause, and a chorus of voices planted in the audience sing a singular and sustained dissonant chord. This happens during Act 2 when the characters Emily and George, as their teenage selves, recognize their mutual love for one another. She has just reprimanded him for becoming “conceited and stuck up.” She expresses her hurt in having to tell him, but also her responsibility to do so, and George, surprised, receives it with gratitude, “I…I’m glad you said it Emily. I never thought that such a thing was happening to me.” They then have a nervous back and forth, and she drops a school book. He kneels down to pick it up, and then the pause begins. The wonderfully dissonant chord comes from all around us, and time slows down. We watch them lock eyes as he hands her the same book over and over and over again in slow motion.  A few seconds are expanded, offered as a gift to show the beautiful weight of what is happening within them.

“Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you,” Emily cries toward the end of the play. She then pleads with the stage manager, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

“No,” the stage manager replies, “The saints and poets, maybe—they do some.”

That line there is a beautiful one, but I have to take issue with it. I don’t think “realizing life” is limited to saints and the poets unless the realization includes the fact that the saint and poet dwell in each of us. I believe the tension we feel against our perceived constraints of time is a common one. I am just using my birthday to highlight a shared longing. I believe we all recognize our life-long responsibility and desire to expand and carefully witness our moments here. Whether they be experiences of joy or sorrow, we know it is important to be attentive within our days and remember them well. Our star, the sun, is not the only thing “straining away all the time.” The task is brilliant and overwhelming, but in many ways, it is the only task we have.

Today is not a day “added” onto every fourth calendar year. It is always there. We just have trouble figuring out how to make room for it. But if we could squeeze ourselves into it and press out some space, I believe we would find it, as well as every day that comes before and after it, infinite in size and much, much bigger on the inside.

ESSO—SO—SO—SO

Regardless of the course title, I try to read a poem aloud at the beginning of every class I teach. Some of my college freshmen love this, but most probably don’t. Like me at their age, they do not carry poetry around in their heads to help them make sense of what is happening around them. Yet.

By the third week of any given semester, I can note eyes rolling as I continue to insist on this ritual. But not all eyes are rolling, and in every class a handful of students jot down the name of the poet and poem before leaning in to engage with the words I send their way.

I like to insist that the carefully selected rhetorical devices within poetry have a place in our rhetoric as we compose, say, an argumentative essay in a college writing course. At the beginning of each semester, our first order of business is to re-imagine the word “argument.” We confront visions of dichotomous debate and replace them with a stance that would imply an intense search for clarity. And this stance often looks very much like that posture of the students, leaning in to receive and learn from the poetic phrasing offered at the beginning of each class.

But more importantly, well beyond the college writing classroom, I hope that through these poetry readings, I’m offering my students tools for their engagement with life—not only their outward articulation of feelings and observations, but also their inward understanding of who they are. Poetry offers clarity in the ongoing dialogue we have with ourselves.

I don’t often go into great depth or explanation about the opening poems, and I don’t usually allow them to lead into lengthy class discussions. A Garfield poster which hung in one of my high school classrooms comes to mind: Garfield is walking around with stacks of books tied to his head, arms, chest, legs, and feet. Above him, in that bubbly Garfield font, it reads, “I’m learning by osmosis.” I tend to believe that poetry is powerful enough that mere exposure to it has potency. I simply read the poem aloud to my students once, maybe twice, trusting that it will do the work and that a few students will think—no, they will realize, to borrow from Mary Oliver, “…that it was all the time words that you yourself, out of your own heart had been saying.”

There are a few poems, however, that I do allow to take up a larger portion of our class time, like Elizabeth Bishop’s “Filling Station.” First, I have the students read it alone. Then I have a few read it aloud. Then I share a recording of Bishop reading it. We talk about the poem’s rhythms, the arrangement of the words, and the speaker’s investigation of arrangements at the filling station. The students pull out alliteration and repetition of sounds, words, and images. We imagine the intentionality behind lines like, “…so that they softly say: / ESSO—SO—SO—SO…” We discuss how a new level of accuracy is reached through the decisions of detail within the poem than if the speaker had simply said, “Today I went to a dirty filling station.” The sharing of details opens a more thorough understanding of the situation. Facts are embedded in the pondering. Through a poetic imagining, we are brought closer to the truth of what is actually going on.

And then there’s that beautiful last line that we feel so kindly reaching out to us, “Somebody loves us all.”

When I play the recording of Bishop reading this poem for my classes, I am always tempted to skip her passing comments before and after. In the beginning she says, “This one will have to be changed, as you’ll see, somehow, I don’t know how, at the end, but I’ll read it the way it is now.” And then right after she reads the last line, “Somebody loves us all,” she says in passing, “I’m afraid that’s a wasted… (ha) no… (ha).” It’s not completely clear what she’s talking about, but you get enough of a sense to gather that she feels a bit silly about the end, particularly that last line. Perhaps as silly as someone might feel if, while arranging oil cans at an “all quite thoroughly dirty” filling station, she realizes she is taking the time to arrange the cans “so that they softly say: / ESSO—SO—SO—SO.”

Maybe Bishop didn’t like the way the last line or stanza sounded. Maybe it felt too clean. But I like it, and I need it to end just as it does. In the last two stanzas, there is a shift in focus. The speaker goes from describing the scene to wondering why it strikes her. What is she to make of it? “Why, oh why, the doily?” The answer to these questions, or at least the answer she manages to muster at the time, means everything. For me, her answer, to borrow a phrase from Christian Wiman, “brings a storm of peace.”

My familiarity with this poem has come from my determination to share it. I share it because of how it builds to that last stanza, that last line. And exposing it to others exposes it to me. Repeatedly. Carrying poetry around in my head helps me make sense of what is happening around me, and it is a welcome companion in my pursuits of clarity. So why, oh why, Bishop’s “Filling Station?”

“Oh, but it is dirty!”

When I realized my husband and I would need to separate and I would need to make a new home for my two daughters and myself, I knew I would have to find or create or claim or proclaim or reclaim beauty within dirty circumstances. I could not imagine this being possible. Beauty? In this mess? Nothing was clean or bright. All imaginings came covered in a “disturbing, over-all black translucency.” My thinking became crowded with questions like, “How does this work? How do I do this? Where do we live? On what do we sleep? And then what?” But I began searching for right choices, imagining options I could not see, and, day by day, I found answers to those questions. I found a safe apartment, and I got a good deal on two twin beds and one full. And my landlord, soft to my situation, offered me two weeks rent-free to prepare the place before moving in. I spent hours alone cleaning and planning and thinking, “What do I have to work with? What do I still need?”

Friends offered me sheets and towels. Neighbors offered me pots and pans. A parent from my daughters’ school brought me boxes and boxes of art supplies she’d found at a rummage sale, all practically new. My two brothers drove a moving van eight hours turned ten from Nashville, TN, to deliver some of my late grandmother’s furniture, which had been waiting in storage for someone to need. Also in the moving van were generous gifts from my mother. Soaps and chip clips for me, socks and fresh slippers for my girls. Why the soaps? Why the fresh slippers? Why, oh why, the chip clips?

When I finally brought the girls over to the apartment, it wasn’t ready. There was still a lot of work to do, but they could sense what I hoped it would become for them, for us. I was relieved by their excitement to join in and help with the planning and placement of things.

They both brought special items from the house they knew they wanted to have at the apartment: stuffed animals, certain books and toys, decorations for their room. Olivia included in her stash a straw cowboy hat which she wore as she toured the place for the first time. She let me know we needed hooks, “Lots of hooks, Mom. For hats and jackets and backpacks.”  She was very right. Mae brought a banner she’d made me for Mother’s Day earlier in the year. It had the word “Love” written in red with a thick, fat paintbrush. The “o” of “Love” was replaced with a red print of her left hand.

Together we debated where the banner should go. My room? The girls’ room? The hallway? No. Above the fireplace mantel, the first thing you see when you walk in the door? Yes. So that it can softly say to anyone who enters, “Somebody loves us all.”

Forgetting Tomorrow

“This land doesn’t look like tomorrow.”

That was my six-year-old daughter Mae’s comment when we walked over the bridge into Disney World’s Tomorrowland, with all of its planetary balls attached to sleek metal contoured structures. Synthesized sounds and neon-colored geometric shapes enveloped us as we moved forward, debating our daughters’ readiness for rides with names like Astro Orbiter and Space Mountain. Turns out they were ill-prepared for this future, but before calling it a day, we did take multiple rides on The Peoplemover, a slow, train-like ride from which we could preview all the possibilities available to us in Tomorrowland.

We concluded our time in this land of the future with a familiar meal of cheeseburgers and fries at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café, and friends from our grad school years who we bumped into at Disney’s character parade earlier that afternoon joined us. Our collected children chomped down on their food at the table next to us. Their faces were glued to the window as they watched a light show outside transform Cinderella’s castle into a crystal ice palace. We adults poked at our small, crunchy ice cubes in our strong plastic cups with our weak plastic straws, while discussing our futures and making endless jabs at “Tomorrowland,” all varieties of the same basic fact–Tomorrowland is simply one big compilation of sci-fi visions from the sixties.

Sans titre-9

But my daughter Mae didn’t have that arsenal of pop culture references as she absorbed this idea of Tomorrowland. To her, if this land was to be an accurate depiction of tomorrow, it would have to transform into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the park we were headed to the next day, which, ironically, looks like 14th century England. But even that idea evolved throughout the day as she wove in and out of “futuristic” structures while aboard The Peoplemover. She realized that her vision of tomorrow was specific only to her and was not the tomorrow of everyone else currently packed into and moving about in this supposedly prophetic land. If it were to accurately be each person’s tomorrow, no experience within this space would be shared in the present, we’d have to pass through each other, all visualizing different things, making today’s land completely obsolete.

A few tomorrows after our trip to Tomorrowland, we were walking through the Charleston City Market in South Carolina. My girls had some Christmas money they wanted to spend. Mae had already purchased a stuffed sea turtle at a gift shop, but my older daughter Olivia wanted to be more selective with her choice. She and I separated from the rest of the family and were making our way through the crowded market at a leisurely pace. We settled into a spot by a vendor’s table where a fellow was demonstrating how to open his collection of wooden puzzle boxes. We played with a few of them, trying to crack their magnetic codes, and then moved on to his wooden fortune telling boxes. Words like “yes,” “no,” “maybe,” and “undecided,” were carved on the top of each box, and above them hovered a pendulum. We took turns asking a question, swinging the pendulum, and then waiting for it to stop, suspended at odd angles above one of the words. Magnets were making this magic.

Olivia, “Will I advance in gymnastics?”

Box, “yes.”

Me, “Will I get more work published this year?”

Box, “maybe.”

Olivia, “Will I get the flu this year?”

Box, “no.”

Me, “Will we stay in Ohio forever?”

Box, “undecided.”

Thanks for nothing, box. Moving on.

More tomorrows have passed, and I now find myself in todayland. The real deal, Ohio. Four inches of snow fell overnight, leaving a beautiful covering outside for me to find when I woke up early and made my way down to this desk in the basement to write more words. For me, this is probably what tomorrowland will look like as well, though I might need to borrow a different word to describe the day-old snow. I might need to steal a term from Ursula K. LeGuin’s 1969 sci-fi novel, Left Hand of Darkness, where the people of Karhid have over sixty-two words for the different types and states of snow. In my tomorrowland this snow will be moved about, tire tracks and boot imprints slightly altering its current pristine state.

lefthandofdarkness

LeGuin’s novel also includes an interesting perspective on the future—one held by a group of people named The Foretellers. These people, who strive to avoid answers, unlearn things, and live in ignorance, have perfected the art of foretelling, their primary motive being, “to exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”

What if we could know what tomorrow was going to look like? What if we did know where we would be in a decade? What if we were given glimpses of our future successes or failures? Would that vision alter the way we’re living our lives today? Aren’t we trying our hardest already? In certain ways I feel my uncertainties keep me sincere, and, though sometimes maddening, there’s a great satisfaction in the day-to-day work of striving.

The lead Foreteller in LeGuin’s book concludes his explanation about the uselessness of foretelling by stating, “The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” To me, this line speaks of the future with more accuracy than Walt Disney’s visions of tomorrow or a wooden box with magic magnets.

I hope to witness many more tomorrows, and I hope they contain answers to questions I cannot even know to formulate today. And as an accumulated whole, I hope they far surpass my imagination.

The House Shows Project

Andrew Hendrixson is a visual artist whose work has been shown in galleries from New York City to Gainesville, Florida, Cincinnati, Ohio to Lubbock, Texas. Since receiving his MFA from the University of Florida, he has engaged the art world as a critic, a lecturer, and a professor. He regularly pursues opportunities to commune with other artists, a recent example being his 8-month residency in Miami with renowned artist, Enrique Martinez Celaya. Currently, as he continues these conversations with and about art in his studio and his classroom, he has added another layer to the exchange by setting up art shows in homes across the country. In the interview that follows, he discusses his art and his hopes for his most recent and ongoing project, The House Shows.

 

Hendrixson_02

“Don’t Sleep” (Quiet Rainbow) | oil on canvas | 36” x36”

 

Elizabeth: Before discussing The House Shows, can you speak about your art more generally?

Andrew: I love things that are beautiful, but the art that I gravitate toward has something to offer about how to be in the world. I need more than just distraction. I almost always feel let down by what I see in contemporary art. At times, I’ve felt like I’m in the wrong discipline. Other times I’ve wondered if I expect too much of the arts, but I don’t think I do. What I need is to know that I’m not the only person in the world feeling clunky and alone. My art comes directly out of my own thoughts and questions. It’s visual thinking, rather than visual asserting.

E: You frequently have iterations of certain images in your paintings. How do these images surface for you, and what are you doing with them on the canvas?

A: I see these images as metaphors I’m latching onto to understand how to be in the world. I’m using the resonance of these images, what we already know about them, to reach an understanding that isn’t possible if we just recount our own personal experiences. I’m often taking an incredibly simple form and suggesting that there is an entire body of thought that yields this form. Metaphor addresses the things for which we don’t have language but recognize nonetheless. I don’t use metaphor as a way of being aloof or elusive or creating mystique. It’s not a trick. Rather, it’s for my own clarity and the hope of a wider, more communal understanding. It’s always at the service of empathy.

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E: And your pursuit of how to be in the world, how to be empathetic, and how to create art that widens our communal understanding is connected to your House Shows Project. What does a house show looks like?

A: The hosts invite people into their homes where we’ve installed my art on their walls. People mill around for a few minutes, and then we gather in one room to talk. Folks pile in, sometimes sitting cross-legged on the floor or on the arms of chairs. My wife opens us with a reading of William Stafford’s A Ritual to Read to Each Other. Then I talk about why art matters and the ways I hope my art and this project might redefine the role of art in people’s lives.

E: Why that poem of Stafford’s?

A: Because it is the aspiration of the house shows. A “pattern that others made” is prevailing in the world, and we are “following the wrong god home.” The poem demands a lot of us. This project is my best attempt to respond to the admonition to remain awake and invite others to do the same, because “the darkness around us is deep.”

. Wasteland | hand sewn fabric, faux fur, and oil on canvas | 69” x 48”

“Wasteland” | hand sewn fabric, faux fur, and oil on canvas | 69” x 48”

E: What prompted The House Shows project?

A: The idea has been building for years out of accumulated frustrations with what I found to be problematic in the existing structures of the art world. My family of origin does not believe the visual arts are for them. I don’t think they are alone in this belief. Often paintings only serve to hold a space on a wall. We assume art has nothing to say to our lives. Art doesn’t have any real presence for us, and that’s a problem. If thoughtfulness is for everyone, how do we actually make concrete examples of this fact? We often allow perceived powers to establish what is or isn’t valuable and who is or isn’t interesting.

I’ve walked into a fine arts gallery in Chelsea where all the workers are wearing Bottega suits, and no one lifts their heads to look at me. I’ve walked into a public library where I see a painting placed high above the bookshelves alongside posters or flyers. At the gallery, I feel I’m not important enough to be there, and at the public library there’s little to distinguish the art from the flyer advertising an apartment for rent. At both ends of the spectrum, the art is either inhospitable or in an inhospitable space. So where do we go to have an encounter that matters with a work of art? Where can we go where it’s presented in a way that we know is for us—where it isn’t antagonistic toward us? There arent a lot of options that exist for art. We have either local craft festivals or high-end galleries—very little in between. But when we make a new option, suddenly that option exists. That’s part of what I hope comes from this project.

Hendrixson_14

E: You often speak of the role tension plays in the process of creating art. While a cozy evening in someone’s living room talking about what you love sounds inviting, what tensions are there for you?

A: I cannot assume the guests will have any previous understanding of or experience with the arts. Certain vernacular or art history references might be unfamiliar to them. I have to actually say what I mean and not hide behind the assumption of shared understanding. I also have to figure out how to let the work do its thing and not feel like I have to unpack it verbally. Anything I say about a particular painting will be less than what the painting is saying, hence the need for the painting. But I can at least give context, sharing what informed the making of the painting. The work will still be distinct from what I say.

E: How has the engagement been with viewers?

A: People have been earnest and receptive. They quickly recognize that the evening’s discussions are going to be about what matters most to them–things they might not often have the opportunity to talk about. Though we’re strangers, we have real human moments and intimate conversations together. We skip over all that get-to-know-you stuff and go to the heart of human experience immediately. I think people are relieved that it’s so confrontational so quickly.

"Sixteen Years" (detail)

“Sixteen Years” (detail)

E: That’s a real distinction. If they walk into a gallery and look at, say, one of your axe paintings, no one is going to tell them, “This is what matters most to the artist. You’re engaging in an honest conversation.”

A: Because so much of contemporary art isn’t about what matters most. We’re so jaded, and probably beneath it all, we’re so hurt that we rarely even try to have these conversations anymore.

E: So what matters most? What are the questions that are at the heart of these conversations?

A: They’re questions of being—the persistent and remaining questions. How should we be in the world? Where are we doing that well and where we are we not? What should or shouldn’t we give our time to?

It’s important to know other people have the same persistent questions we have. This creates the possibility of empathy for one another. If I’m just giving you cynicism and wit in my art, or even just proficiency with a brush, we never have the opportunity to talk about anything that actually matters. Anything we do talk about will be adjacent to our lives. So much of contemporary art is on the periphery of our experience. We already know what happens on the other side of carelessness and apathy. But what’s less known is compassion, empathy, non-passivity.

study for "Hope and the King of Anything" (detail)

study for “Hope and the King of Anything” (detail)

 

E: If I could trust that the art I see in a gallery is asking those questions, my entire experience there would change. If I can believe a painting is asking about questions of being, then I know how to begin to engage it.

A: The House Shows have only affirmed my desire to make work that is rooted in my own questions rather than in visual whimsy. People are responding to this and recognizing the intention of the work. These shows also make me have to be increasingly more genuine in what I say I think and believe. I cannot hide behind my insecurities like I would be able to in the gallery. The house shows are constantly confrontational for me.

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E: How has it been adjusting to a different kind of space for your art? You have to accept that a painting might hang on a scuffed wall or next to a light switch. Is that compromising the work of art? Is anything lost when the lighting isn’t perfect or when it’s hanging close to the quilt grandma made?

A: The austerity of the gallery is lost. I do love the perfect track lighting, the perfect halo around the painting, and the perfect shadows between the paintings. In a gallery, everything is so fixed to be lovely. But, what is that? Those aren’t the lives we live. Our lives and homes and thoughts are not that tidy. When the painting is three inches from a light switch, I can’t hide behind perfect track lighting and perfectly light grey walls. It makes the art have to be good, and hopefully really good, because now it must contend with the light switch and grandma’s quilt. More to the point, and even if I begrudge this, the art actually BELONGS between the light switch and grandma’s quilt because that’s the space in which we’re living. The manicured tidiness of the gallery has nothing to do with the lives we have. But art in the living room…

E: Currently, what are you working on in the studio?

A: I’m exploring the walls of Jericho in some studies, drawings and on a few canvases. Scripture is full of these victories of obedience. God tells his people to walk around a wall seven times, and it falls. He tells them to do this other thing, and it works. Take up your mat and walk—it works. I don’t always see those kinds of results in life. So I’m poking at Jericho as an idea. I would love to walk around the wall seven times and watch it fall. I could then think, “That’s great! I’m obedient, and it works.” But what if it doesn’t work? What if the walls never fall? Will I still keep walking? At worst it’s long-suffering, and at best it’s hope—if I’m active and not passive, if I keep participating, if I show up and walk around seven times today maybe they will fall eventually.

E: It’s interesting, because there is long-suffering in scripture: wilderness wandering, the exile, instances where people never saw the fruit of their obedience. But you’re mining these shorter stories that supply convenient images, which is often how we absorb them. The longer stories of exile or wandering don’t have those clear “pow!” moments with quick results. You’re drawing attention to those longer stories without mentioning them by taking to task the shorter narratives that are so easy to tell and cling to and recall with an image.

A: Thus far, those shorter stories don’t pan out in the world in which I live. I can’t get my head around those kinds of results. Does my understanding of them need to change? Or do I need to change? Maybe I need to not look for the walls to fall down. Maybe results don’t even matter. Wendell Berry says we don’t have the right to ask questions about results. We just do it because it’s right.

 

More of Hendrixson’s work as well as information about upcoming house shows in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Chicago can be found here.