FOUR CORNERS is a series of landscape-based oil on paper abstract paintings, 15” x 22”, that come from the nature of place and name. These works reflect how our minds perceive external “real” information through our eyes and then process and abstract meaning through our stored memories, knowledge of what has been true, beliefs about what will be true, and emotions.
Geographically, the place is where the corners of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet. It is remote. The FOUR CORNERS series came about through personal experience and reflection among that area’s rock outcroppings, buttes, mountains, grand trees, and more. I felt the power of connecting patterns, how each evokes and is often named for a figure it resembles. In the red rock areas of the Four Corners states the landscape features take on the status of great and minor landmarks through their name--Shiprock, cathedrals, Organ Pipe, lions, elephants, Spider Rock, cows, Sleeping Ute, Indian Princess, Three Sisters, Window Rock.
These varied landscape features are constructed, grown, evolved, and eroded by a system of natural forces. Entropy, water, wind, gravity and chance create the figures that people are most capable of recognizing and most apt to name. Often, from other angles or lighting conditions, features possess secondary figures that are only subliminally perceived so rarely named. The less obvious patterns are often more complex and are left to the individual viewer’s imagination.
My attention while working on the FOUR CORNERS series was captured by a social psychology study reported by management scholar Jennifer Whitson. Whitson discusses how our ability (or possibly our receptivity) to see these kinds of visual images is dependent on our feeling of being in control of our lives. “In short, people who felt that the world was beyond their control became so hungry for patterns and connections that their minds started just making them up.” (1)
Another research study by Nouchine Hadjikhani et.al., found that pareidolia, or facial feature recognition by humans in objects and nature, seems hardwired, possibly an early evolutionary adaptation. “Face perception is an automatic, rapid and subconscious process, already present in human newborns, who preferentially orient towards simple schematic face-like patterns.” (2) It is natural, fast, and we don’t need to think about ambiguous images to put together the clues that detect faces.
This power of naming is a practice as old as man: the desire to anthropomorphize our environment from cave paintings and constellations to landmarks on the terrain. Part what one branch of painting, going back in time to Turner, has been about this early brain process human trait. Anthropomorphizing our environment has been practiced more recently by Francis, Still, Frankenthaler, Louis, Hoffman, Poons, Rothko, Pollock, Steir, Altoon, Moses, etc.
As the world as we know it continuously crumbles, challenging even the most equanimous person’s sense of place and control, perhaps this FOUR CORNERS series will satisfy a deep hunger in people for patterns, elemental beauty, and connections through art and landscape.