Magical Realism

I view the practices of making music and writing with a familiarity born of experience. They are the primary mediums I move in when creating art, the water I swim in. Which by no means implies that I don’t hit creative blocks quite often, or that there is anything less than a wide range of creative possibilities available to me within those mediums. The opposite is true in fact. Music and the written word possess an almost infinite recombinant potential. You’d think all possible songs would have been written by now, all the chords and lyrics used up. No, we keep churning out new stuff.

But I digress.

In the last couple years, I’ve found refreshment and inspiration in engaging with art forms I feel OUTSIDE of in terms of practice. I don’t take photographs in the same way I write or make music. I don’t paint. I don’t do installation art. The divide I experience seems to calve along the visual/linguistic line that the examples I’ve given illustrate. I think in words, both with my writing and my music which tends to be story driven and fairly simple musically. Visual art is another world to me, and perhaps in part because of my ignorance of its technical aspects it seems magical, an unknown continent of fecundity and surprise. It touches parts of me that are primal and others that are childlike.

I’ve been particularly struck by the work of a few photographers over the last couple of years. The work of Andrew Brooks drew me in when I initially stumbled across it largely because I couldn’t tell in many of his photographs what was part of the initial capture and what he’d edited into the shot or changed afterwards. Many of his pictures are obviously heavily edited with a computer (they’ll have dinosaurs in them or ghosts) and often seem clearly to have been done for clients in advertising. I suspect his landscapes are pretty medicated too. And I love them.

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The breadth, skill, and creativity evident in Adam Sjöberg’s work
would have won me over even if I didn’t know him personally as a deeply thoughtful, compassionate, and humble man. Adam’s worked with a broad swath of clients over the last few years and I’ve been making the daily pilgrimage to his site for a long time now because I’m usually rewarded with something that offers a fresh perspective, often on life in New York City. He lives where I vacation.

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The candid shots he gets at weddings are some of my favorites. Something about the humanity evident in a simple moment captured in a photograph can spark an idea that bridges the gap between the visual and the abstract/verbal part of my brain from where stories arise. That’s part of how I would explain my drawing on visual art. It’s like good fruit that goes into the hooped barrel of my subconscious and may emerge as a story later.

The kernel-like nature which a picture or painting is possessed of, this small something in relation to the generative power it contains, is part of what draws me so strongly to visual art and the wonderfully strange way that it interacts with and feeds the fire of other forms of art. That which is unsaid creates a latent potential that can never be fully realized in the same way in a medium like the written word in which you can go on for as long as you want describing something.

In closing, I must speak about Anne Hardy.

Anne’s work stands in a class of its own with regard to the influence it’s had on me over the last year and a half. I have returned again and again to her photographs, experiencing a deep and persisting sense of wonder and sheer joy each time I engage the incredibly detailed, wildly imaginative body of work she’s built up over the last decade.

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I fear to say too much as I would hope you could have your own experience of her work. By way of a brief introduction you should visit the link above and be aware that all of Anne’s photographs are completely staged. She has a studio space which she builds up from scratch over untold hours of labor for each individual photograph she makes. Everything, from the literal walls, ceiling, and floor, down to the sawdust, cobwebs and tiniest nuances of every surface and found object is a complete fabrication. A fiction as it were, with each photograph telling the story of a unique world. These interior worlds that she creates usually give the impression of being heavily used, thoroughly lived in.

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In the end it is not simply the photographs themselves that fascinate me. It’s the knowledge that Anne fabricated everything ex nihilo. I’m so intrigued. I want to go visit in these places, nay, to explore in them for hours on end. I want to know their stories.

But Anne’s not here to tell me what they mean. And so I must make a meaning for myself. I firmly believe this to be one of the fulcrum realities of our engagement with all art. The artist’s opinion and intent have no sway, no influence, and are in one real sense of no consequence once art is released into the world. The viewer or reader or listener receives a work and must in turn create meaning. We must co-create. Anne’s work provides a palette so expansive that it threatens at times to brim over the edge of my mind’s cup. This is the gift of great art.

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