Acrylic, Collage, Micro-Beads on 40″ x 30″ Canvas. copyright 2016, Judi Cain
Accepting a Challenge
In 2016, our local arts organization gallery issued a “call to artists” for entries in a themed show for the following month. The theme was “Collage” so I set out to make a collage.
I browsed through my stack of 1950’s Life Magazines that I bought at a flea market years ago and hoarded for no other reason than they still existed after all these years, and someone should take care of them.
One of the magazines, dated 1954, featured a section honoring photographers for their black and white photography, and one of those photographs, spreading across two pages, drew me in to look deeper. The photographer aimed his camera looking down on a very large round table. Hands of small children rested palms down all around the table and in the center of the table was a single small box. Then I saw the title of the photograph: “The Class Hamster Died.”
I have tried to find the magazine so I could show the cover and the exact issue and give credit to the photographer. Pretty sure I didn’t throw it out, but its current location escapes me. I also searched on line for the photo and couldn’t find it, so you’ll just have to visualize it from my description.
Developing the composition
I cut the hands out of the photo and placed them in four corners of the 30″ x 40″ blank canvas. Some of them had to be copied and printed so that the hands would fit into the corners proportionately.
Since the photo was black and white, I covered the rest of the canvas with black and white acrylic paint, with no image in mind – just brushing the paint in random, flowing strokes, creating solid black areas, solid white areas and grays where they blended together. I used a small brush to paint around the small hands in the corners.
With the canvas resting on the easel, I sat in my chair and studied the lines, shapes and forms that brush strokes had formed in the paint and the small hands, now blended almost unnoticeable into the swirls of paint. “It’s supposed to be a collage, not a painting,” my critical mind demanded. So I looked for more hands.
In a Google search, I found hands in positions that sparked interest and printed them onto matte finish photo paper. I cut them out and arranged them on the canvas in a way that would create balance and direction and secured them to the canvas using Golden Matte Gel Medium. Another layer of gel medium was applied to the surface of all the paper hands, to protect them from fading and to give them a surface appearance that would blend with the acrylic paint.
More studying the painting, turning it in different directions, looking for areas that call out to me to be developed. I follow lines, acknowledge shapes, zoom in to find more subtle forms and add paint to add contrast and definition. Zooming out again I look for lines and shapes that will bring unity to the composition. At this point, I am only concerned with composition of an arrangement of shapes, forms and patterns, not trying to give any specific meaning or message in the composition. I give further definition to the developing white shapes, following the lines made by initial brush strokes, adding bright whites and darker blacks to create contrast.
Still, I can’t help thinking about the hidden story behind the events leading up to the capture of the photograph: “The Class Hamster Died.”
I discovered a small white dot in the center of the large black space. Fascinated as I am with spirals, I used thick white acrylic paint, applied from an applicator bottle to start from the white dot, following the spiral as moved around that dot.
As the painting felt like it was nearing completion I continued to study it, noticing that the hands seemed to be floating in space and not having a reason to be there – not connecting to each other giving meaning to the composition. I was still musing over the children’s hands, thinking that those children would probably be around 55 years old by now, and wondering how that experience and the photograph had impacted their lives. I thought about who I was in 1954 and how time had passed by so quickly. It was then that I thought about the “sands of time” and added silver micro beads flowing from the hands. This not only connected the hands, but also added dimension and texture to the composition.
Suddenly a phrase came into my mind: “Time Space Compression.”
The Painting Tells Me When It’s Complete, and Names Itself
I often say that the paintings paint themselves and they also name themselves. I just supply my hands and eyes, the tools and technique to help it materialize. This was not the first time I had to go to the internet and search for the meaning of the name that this painting/collage had selected. I found more than one reference for this term I had never heard of before, and was amazed that this name fit perfectly!
Here are some excepts from a Wikipedia article, and a link to the article, should you want to read more:
“Time–space compression (also known as space–time compression and time–space distantiation), articulated in 1989 by geographer David Harvey in The Condition of Postmodernity, it refers to anything that impacts time and space. Harvey’s idea was rooted in Karl Marx’s theory of the “annihilation of time and space”. A similar idea was proposed by Elmar Alvater in an article in PROKLA in 1987 translated into English as “Ecological and Economic Modalities of Time and Space” and published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 1(3) in 1989.
Time–space compression often occurs as a result of technological innovations including technology of communication and economics.
According to theorists like Paul Virilio, time-space compression is an essential facet of contemporary life: “Today we are entering a space which is speed-space … This new other time is that of electronic transmission, of high-tech machines, and therefore, man is present in this sort of time, not via his physical presence, but via programming” (qtd. in Decron 71). In “Vitesse et Politique”, Virilio coins the term dromology to describe “speed-space.” Virilio describes velocity as the hidden side of wealth and power, which represents a determining factor concerning societies’ structures. Historical eras and political events, out of this perspective, are also speed-ratios. In his view, acceleration destroys space and compresses the time in ways of perceiving reality.
Doreen Massey maintains this idea about time-space compression in her discussion of globalization and its effect on our society. Similar to Virilio, she states that because our world is “speeding up” and “spreading out”, time-space compression is more prevalent than ever as internationalization takes place. Cultures and communities are merged during time-space compression due to rapid growth and change, as “layers upon layers” of histories fuse together to shift our ideas of what the identity of a “place” should be.
Theorists generally identify two historical periods in which time–space compression occurred; the period from the mid-19th century to the beginnings of the First World War, and the end of the 20th century. In both of these time periods, according to Jon May and Nigel Thrift, “there occurred a radical restructuring in the nature and experience of both time and space … both periods saw a significant acceleration in the pace of life concomitant with a dissolution or collapse of traditional spatial co-ordinates”.
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