Artist Statement

I am interested in the dynamic between land and water, and the necessary yet sometimes perilous balance between them. The marsh of Southwest Louisiana is full in every sense. It has a humming sound and a pungent scent. The wind moves the grasses, the current moves the water, and the animals move among both. The land is constantly shifting. Sometimes the change happens quickly, like when the sky is filled with dense, gray clouds, and then in one moment it shifts to open blue. Sometimes the change--such as erosion and subsidence, or restoration and growth--occurs gradually over time. And then there are the catastrophic and sudden changes of a hurricane. It is through the act of painting and drawing where I find myself within this flux, confronting the need for sustainability with the inevitableness of impermanence. As I work through a painting, I am keenly aware of how the land appears to gracefully accept impermanence, whereas I struggle with it. My approach to the work is both tender and fierce. I might finesse a particular color or area carefully for days, and then, on the same painting I'll find myself scraping away paint, redrawing, repainting an area until the painting reveals the right combination of color and shapes.

The aerial view of the marsh is more removed, but I am no less captivated by what I see. I am amazed by the transformation of thick, lush grass appearing as cartographic shapes. Even more stunning is the permeation of water from the waterways, ponds, lakes, and obstructed borders—both natural and manmade. I experience the land as strong and enduring as well as fragile and disappearing. Though I've photographed the marsh through three aerial flights from 2005-2009, and have used the photographs as source material, my ink and gouache drawings rely on a spontaneous process of organizing and balancing emptiness with marks. Since I am often unable to distinguish which areas of the marsh are disintegrating and which are regenerating, the only constant I can rely on is shift between water and land, emptiness and fullness. Ultimately in working out these drawings and paintings I am compelled by the experience of both my external observations and internal reflections, and how these outward and inward experiences collide and convene with each other in the land, in the work, and in myself.

Fluid Land

Cartographic Drawings of a Southwest Louisiana Landscape
July 2013

I spent many hours pouring over maps found on the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources website. The maps became an invaluable tool because I was able to compare the marsh over a period of time, particularly the years 1998 to 2010. My goal was not to make actual maps, but rather to use the maps to create drawings that show time and change. The maps provide an uninterrupted view of the marsh—there is a clear distinction between the areas of vegetation and the accompanying water, including ponds, open water, and waterways. The longer I looked at the maps, the more I became aware of loss.

In particular, I focused on the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, which suffered damage from both hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008. As Terry Delaine, Refuge Manager, said when I consulted him about the maps, “The pictures speak for themselves.” He further explained that the wind from Rita tore up the marsh while water from Ike engulfed parts of the refuge, thus expanding the amount of open water in some areas. I used maps of the Sabine refuge for Before and After and Fragments that clearly showed an alarming expansion of water from 1998 to 2010.

I also found the maps helpful in depicting erosion. In the drawing Erosion I depicted a gradual change of the coast as it recedes, while in Shifting Edge I overlaid the 2010 images of the marsh on top of the 1998 version to demonstrate a startling and dramatic movement of the coast within those 12 years.

The only drawing where I did not use a map as a source is New Growth—Multiplying. Instead, I abstractly represented what happens when plugs of marsh grass are planted through restoration efforts. After the plugs are in place, they produce pups or offshoots of grass that fill in the gaps between plantings, thus creating a multiplying effect of growth. Because the work was about regeneration rather than loss, I used a different application of ink and altered the format of the drawing.

While working on the project there were times when I was stunned by the devastating loss, but I leave the work feeling inspired by the people who are dedicated to marsh—those who work, volunteer or advocate for restoration. I am hopeful that there is not only resilience in the wetlands of the Chenier Plain of Southwest Louisiana but also in the people who serve as stewards of the land.