Monday, November 25, 2013

Mary Mountcastle Eubank: "The Deep Heart's Core"

.... I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
                       ---From W.B. Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

Mary Mountcastle Eubank is presenting a show called "Edges and Flows" at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station, where I am an artist member. Eubank is a founding member of the gallery, now in its thirtieth year. Here are two installation views of her show:

"Out of Nothing," a small (18" x 24") painting near the entrance, feels to me the way the pistil and stamens of a flower might look to a visiting honeybee.    The ceramic shards come cleanly out of the blurred surface of the canvas, but we feel so close, as if zoomed into that surface, and it's as if some small, silent explosion has just happened, and we have landed in its center:

Eubank wrote in her artist's statement that "I want to imagine a replica of a landscape that is not an imitation, but a reflection of my inner response to landscape and place." Pure imitation would be photographic; a reflection of a response is a purely intangible thing, something to take a lifetime reaching. Like Yeats, Eubank seems to be able to reach across pavements and time back into this reserve of blue water and red sands that she so ably portrays in this show. Eubank has written that hers is "a sensuous relationship to the natural world." To be truly sensuous, I think! one must hold nothing back, and that is just what we see here. Wide-open art.

Here is a piece without title or price, representing, perhaps, some of the ingredients in the work on display:

Reminds me of something... My husband, our two children and I lived for a year and a half on the island of Malta, located in the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Sicily. In winter, the mistral blew the red sands up from Northern Africa, and the particles fell on cars, roads, tree limbs... And it was just this color; desert sand could blow right by us, so the world was very small, wasn't it?

Eubank would seem to agree. Yes, the natural world is vast, but each piece of it, each fragment that makes up our world, is part of us, can be small enough to be seen and understood, if only a little, by each of us. The artist has explained that her works "develop with alternating layers of thin washes and heavy impasto, often laced with organic materials, such as sand, decomposed granite and wood ash."  It is an unusual set of tools for painting, but one that echoes the colors of earth and water in Eubank's home, West Marin.

"Passage," a monumental mixed-media painting  (49" x 72"), could be a landscape. I could say it looks like a cold morning pathway seen from The deck of a ship, with icebergs threatening on either side:

But, for this artist, the painting is far more likely to refer to an interior journey. Possibilities are there, rich in color and warmth and light, if you can just steer clear of those icebergs. Those two brown built-up paper objects -- or obstacles -- are deeply etched. We know these rocks and shoals. We have been on them ourselves, marooned for a time until that bit of light at the bottom breaks through and sets us free.

There is another Irish poet whose work has been running through my mind these last few days. Seamus Heaney wrote a poem called "Postscript," published in his book "The Spirit Level." He talks about driving in a car past the kinds of landscape we see in Northern California (or, in his case, the West of Ireland):

....So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans....

Useless to think you'll park and capture or
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

We viewers are "A hurry through which known and strange things pass." If we are lucky, we stop in front of one of Eubank's paintings of the landscapes of the "deep heart's core," and we feel our hearts blown open.

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