The artistic process is an amorphous, enigmatic idea that refuses to conform across personalities. As I prepared for the Layer on Layer opening, I was met with similar mystique. With no prompt, the title alone guides the thematic arrow of the show. On opening night, I circled the gallery over and over repeating the alliterate “Layer on Layer” as I sought to find what inquisition I could bring to the table as a humble intern.
So, there I was, an intern prepping interviews for Layer on Layer with a golden ticket to indulge the creative curiosities often overlooked for more thematic inquiries. I spoke with Jon Goebel (1st place), a master printmaker who is both professor and director of the University of Hawaii at Hilo printing program; Doug Bosley (2nd place), an award winning printmaker specialized in mezzotint; and Kate Wilson (3rd place), a Pawtucket based contemporary artist whose mediums vary between paintings, photography, inks, and in this case, sculpture.
I interviewed these award winning artists throughout the duration of Layer on Layer’s time on exhibit, peeling back their artistic experience layer by layer.
Layer One: Within Creation
Art is fundamentally the product of creation. There is an infinite time before a work is brought into the world, a dedicated mental and physical production of the work, and an equally infinite time afterwards in which the art exists. I began these discussions with that middle sliver in which the art is made.
To Jon Goebel, the artistic process is ongoing, a conglomerate of life experiences, developing tastes, and time spent within a given medium. This sentiment is echoed in his drypoint and aquatint print Pursuit of Latitude. The piece is a movement through space and time, symbolically depicting the shifts in perception which inevitably accompany change.
When speaking about the origin of the piece, Goebel centered his family’s 5000 mile relocation to Hawaii after accepting his position at University of Hawai’i at Hilo in 2013. The piece is composed of two dominating symbols, a death’s-head hawkmoth (Acherontia Atropos) and a foucault pendulum. In tandem, they represent the scope of one’s personal transformation and the humility of perspective. This comes from the hawk moth’s unique ability to assimilate into otherwise foreign environments and the illusive false sense of rotation of foucault pendulums.
Ever present in an artist’s life is the pursuit, a movement towards an unreachable but ever aspirational end. Inspiration strikes at the intersection of emotion and experience. This recognition of connection is captured and conveyed through the unique selections picked from a lifelong collection of memory and knowledge.
This fascination with perspective extends beyond his printmaking, when in 2020, he collaborated with John Burns at UH Hilo to create a 80,000x scale 3d model of a coral reef, representing the integral anatomical structure from the perspective of the organisms who live within it.
Doug Bosley’s mezzotint Isomorphous Replacement contrasts with Goebel’s sentimental imagery, instead depicting a scientific process on the molecular level. The title refers to a technique used to solve the “phasing problem,” an essential step in mapping the structure of a given molecule. The time taken to create this piece was largely spent understanding and partaking in the process during a residency at a crystallography laboratory. Having been immersed in the process, Bosley was able to represent the technique with bold expression and accuracy.
With Isomorphous Replacement being a mezzotint, a meta-testament to the work of scientists is created through the laborious scrutiny of Bosley’s chosen medium. This fascination with diligence is present in many of Bosley’s other works, notably represented by the recurring “Auxon” characters, micro-robotic creatures inseparable from the labor of love which is printmaking.
Kate Wilson and I spoke on opening night beside her piece Red Dragon, a coiled abstract sculpture made from paper on metal armature. Long before Red Dragon came to be, its components laid dormant in Wilson’s Pawtucket studio. The 5,000 red tags were purchased in bulk form a recycling center after never fulfilling their initial descriptive utility. Wilson kept them in storage, needing only to wait until inspiration struck.
For all three artists, the process was anything but cut and dry. That sliver of time when the artwork is in literal creation exists within a larger sliver of contemplation, experience, and patient ideation. Wilson said, “The luxury of being an artist is creating something that does not exist yet,” and Red Dragon is the perfect example of the nuance of that statement and how it applies to Goebel and Bosley’s work as well. The process of creation is accumulation and execution of ideas that, in some sense, already exist. Whether it is Wilson’s patient storing of sculpture materials, Bosley’s crystallography residency, or Goebel’s 5000 mile relocation, creation comes over time and, particularly, outside the studio.
NEXT WEEK: LAYER TWO: PROCESS CONNECTION