Essay by Diane R Karp, Ph.D.
Santa Fe Art Institute
Life is filled with connections, some intentional and other circumstantial. During the spring of 2002 Grimanesa Amorós was part of an artists’ residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. That particular residency was established to provide respite for the many artists in lower Manhattan whose lives were so deeply affected by the terrorism of September 11, 2001. Between October 2001 and May 2002 many artists fled the pressures and devastation of New York City to spend time in the exquisite landscape of the high desert environment of Santa Fe New Mexico. While in residency there were no fixed expectations. We provided each artist with a private room and studio space and left them to explore and discover, to heal and re-center, to work or not as they needed.
During her residency I was privileged to have the time and space to get to know Grimanesa. As an individual Grimanesa is breath of energetic fresh air. As an artist she is always thinking, wonderfully talented and although she looks like an angel, she has the work habits of a dervish, regularly working till late into the night.
For a month I watched Grimanesa work on the serious of drawings that would come to be called “Falling”, a rare privilege for a curator or administrator. First she unrolled eleven (thirteen foot long) sheets of Tyvek. Each was carefully affixed to the studio walls and casts of body parts were unpacked and arrayed on the floor in front of each blank sheet. These casts were made of her own body during her pregnancy several years earlier. With pencil in hand she began to draw on the Tyvek. After the initial shapes were drawn, Grimanesa shifted to hand made, un-pigmented oil paint sticks, applying the oil paint to expand the already existing forms. Once the oil paint drawings were laid in a heat gun provided the next component, melting the oil paint stick into the surface of the Tyvek creating passages of startling translucency and rippling texture as well as small holes. One by One the drawings came into being, creating a drama of exquisite shapes, shifting light and gravity. With each new drawing the drama expanded and the relationships between drawings began to take on a powerful dimension of event or agency. Forces are at work here, creative and cognitive, turning memory into art.
Life, with all its meanderings and convolutions, lies at the heart of Grimanesa’s art. The rich combination of opaque surfaces, translucent passages, smooth and rippled texture, the holes opened by the heat, the body casts and the strange light suffused ominous shapes that drift and tumble down the drawings spoke of the beauty as well as the remember horrors of 9/11.
Conversations about the powerful series of drawings helped to clarify the embedded meanings and origins of the abstract imagery. That there were eleven tall narrow sheets of Tyvek covered with elegant yet powerful abstract shapes falling, falling, falling toward the body parts below seemed to emerge as meaning. It was only over time that the deep meaning of the drawings began to assert itself. The shimmering light, the glistening glass and metal, the white handkerchiefs waved from the distant hands, the clouds of white dust and smoke and the falling shapes of airborne angels found their way into the art as abstractions of emotion and memory, gruesome and beautiful.
Grimanesa married the powerful drawings with music composed by Jim Wilson to create an expanded experience of the Work. Such collaboration is an extension of the work into the aural realm as memory and emotion with composition that plumbs the depths in a parallel mode. The result is an extraordinary environment that has bout it the power of art to find beauty and express human states, no matter how painful the associations. These are abstractions of nature that bespeak deep spiritual vision, metaphorical light moving the audience to experience the beauty as well as imbedded pain and loss. This is art that embraces the totality of life.