In 1996, I found a 13th century Chinese ink recipe while studying in the rare book room of the Suzhou University Library (Suzhou, China). Intrigued, I decided to make my own ink by following this recipe, which aside from the standard binder (horse glue) and pigment (pine soot) also called for exotic materials such as musk gland of a deer, ground pearl, cinnabar, sandalwood oil, and extract from hibiscus root. I became increasingly intrigued by these exotic ingredients, not so much for their physical qualities, but because the knowledge of their presence had a profound effect on my imagination. They called for a new form of observation and, ultimately, began to determine the subjects of my painting.
Historically, the search for pigments for inks and paints has been primarily a search for color. My own search has been rather different—instead of color, I look for pigments that tell stories that actively inhabit the imagination. These pigments become a means for gathering, and a key to interpretation. Examples of materials I have used include meteorite dust, freshwater pearls, fossilized shark teeth, fossilized whale earbones, and a wide variety of minerals, stones and soils from specific geographical locations.
Prior to painting, I spend time studying each of these materials, allowing their stories and characteristics to take root in my own imagination. I pay close attention to their physical structures, how they formed, what their function is or may have been, how they have been used by other people and cultures, what they reveal about distant places and events. Once I have internalized these things, I begin to make paints with the materials and develop painting techniques and compositions specific to each material. And in so doing, I begin a dialogue and collaboration with the material itself. The act of paintings becomes akin to translation, to revealing the image-voice of the other.
Over the years, an unusual number of artists from the Pacific Northwest have incorporated aspects of painting traditions of East Asia in their own painting practice, examples being Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Hilda Morris, and Margot Thompson. My own practice can also be positioned within this synthetic drive, extending the vision of these artists, and making visual arguments about spirit and place.