10 September 2010

Artists On the Mayflower

Sarah Peters, Dorothy May Bradford
It's an interesting experience to complete a body of work and then discover that another artist has covered the same material. I've identified five stages of response (take that, Elizabeth Kubler Ross!). My first-stage reaction always includes a tinge of panic (did one of us copy the other?), followed by some Google investigation, then a stage of comparing (hers is so much better than mine), some deep thinking, and finally delight. I had an opportunity to observe these stages in action a couple of weeks ago when Ed Winkleman announced the Winkleman Gallery show of Sarah Peters' Appeal to Heaven, which includes a set of drawings called "The Mayflower Series."

Peters' work and my Pilgrim prints are not at all similar. Her drawings are intricate layered pen and ink crosshatchings, resembling etchings. Most of her Mayflower drawings are depictions of ocean/water. I like them very much and I appreciate the thinking that I can discern behind the drawings. Peters has titled these water drawings with dates -- September 6, 1620 (the day the Mayflower left England), October 5, 1620, etc. -- taking us along on the grueling 66-day voyage. The churning waters and the occasional emerging human faces in the waves convey the terror that must have consumed the passengers' lives during their 66 days at sea and from what I can see on the Winkleman web site, Peters' strong assertive mark making could make one a little seasick up close. It's an effective approach, and very different from mine.

But what struck me immediately is that we both gravitated toward the story of Dorothy May Bradford. At the top of the post you can see Peters' portrait of Dorothy (the only portrait in her series), and mine to the right. My deepest feeling about this co-incidence?  I'm touched by the fact that both of us were touched by Dorothy's story. Dorothy's story is tragic, intriguing, mysterious, deeply sad, and I think highly resonant for a woman artist. I feel affirmed by seeing Peters' work. And delighted.

Sarah Peters, October 20, 1620, detail

Sociologist James William Gibson says
that when a culture is in crisis, the first response is often to go back to the creation myth to start over again. I don't know if Sarah Peters is a Mayflower descendant too (I assume that she is), but that act of reaching back to the American creation myth is the common thread I see in our work. We're each doing it in a different way, not just in terms of our medium of choice and our styles, but also in the audiences we each seem to be speaking to. But our questions appear to be the same. When I see that another artist is asking the same questions that I am, it makes me feel that rather than toiling away in my own little world I'm a participant in a larger dialog.

Sarah Peters' show at Winkleman Gallery looks fantastic, and if I lived in NY I would have spent the evening at the opening last night. The show is up through October 9, 2010. Leave me a comment here if you see it in person -- I'd love to hear your impressions.


Martha Knox said...

I haven't seen the Sarah Peters show, so I do not have a comment on that. I just wanted to comment on how moved I feel by your print of Dorothy May Bradford. I am also a woman artist, and the image does perhaps make a deeper impression on me because of that fact. Thank you for sharing it and calling attention to Bradford's sad story.

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Synchronistic parallel creative strands.....pretty cool!