| For The Register-Guard
Recently, as the smoke thickened, I left my house and art studio, most of my belongings and all my paintings behind; my family and I were being ushered out of our neighborhood by evacuation orders, state troopers and bad air. In times of smoldering uncertainty, nature forces us indoors (with the coronavirus) and, as with the Holiday Farm Fire, nature forces us back out.
As an artist, the potential loss of things, valuables, even art itself could be viewed as a possible creative clearing like the way a forest is made into a field, good for new growth. Is creativity the fire or the forest floor, the act itself or in the empty canvas we show up with? We are separate from our stories like the magic of art itself is in process more than its product. Since the fire rapidly spread down Highway 126, my iPhone now reminds me in a nightly text from Google Maps, “Take a different route home,” and I add to that symbolic suggestion, the only way home is to not be afraid to leave it all behind.
Normally this time of year up the McKenzie River where I live, animals are either camouflaging themselves to survive or becoming more colorful to reproduce.
Usually, I walk the forestry roads with my dog where adult deer and their young are cocoa-colored and often seen motionless. Back at the house, male wild turkeys are the opulent opposite, their feathers a metallic sheen, caruncles colored bright red as they slowly strut amongst the earthy-colored others. Artists, too, can creatively conceal or color themselves anew while adapting to creative challenges or when faced with a world sometime seeming wrong side up.
The paintings of John Dilg and the textiles of Helen Mirra at the National Exemplar in Iowa City are an excellent example of two things made more mystical when seen together. Dilg’s small canvases shimmer in a mist of threadlike brushstrokes and describe minimal dream states of water, wolves, lone figures, and open sky.
The subject of his work isn’t the objects that occupy the paintings but the moment in time itself, always a symposium of stillness is soft grey green and powder blues.
Mirra’s similarly sized pieces in silk and linen aren’t pictorial but appear painterly, like trees and reeds seen through smoke or rain and are poetry to Dilg’s prose.
If Dilg plus Mirra equals camouflage when combine, the art of Harold Ancart, at David Zwirner Gallery in New York, is abundantly incendiary in style and subject.
An Ancart painting is often of something hot or cold, like a giant iceberg or an oversized head of a match ready to be struck, made more colorful painted against a black background. For this show, the artist paints trees seen close, often between branch or bloom, neither trunk nor top, as origins of transformation. There is similarity in the new and old paintings, a tree trunk is a matchstick to the flame of its fruit, a green mushroom cloud over a funnel of forest organically ignited.
Not much more than a year ago, at 4:13 p.m. (as the cellphone photo tells me), my wife and I sat outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Perhaps the act or action that started a fire that consumed much of the church was just then happening. We heard the sirens only hours later when napping back in our hotel a mile away.
It occurred to me when walking back toward the billowing smoke, that the cloud (colored yellow and smelling of dense wood) was hundreds of years of history and art ignited but imbued by equal years of prayer. While the prayers for survival aren’t always granted, the embers of imagination fanned by artistic intent always create something reassuring and new.
The art of John Dilg and Helen Mirra can be seen at the National Exemplar’s website, thenationalexemplar.squarespace.com. The work of Harold Ancart is on display at David Zwirner gallery in New York City until Oct. 17.
Benjamin Terrell is the owner of Epic Seconds at 11th Avenue and Willamette Street in Eugene with mixed media downstairs and local artist paintings and used records upstairs. Ben’s own paintings can be found on Instagram @moseswaits. Want more stories like this? Follow @CAFE_541 on Instagram and subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.