Joan Levy Hepburn
The exhibition entitled “Streams” combines a series of 37 x 49 inch oil paintings and a looped recording of a musical cello composition. Both the paintings and the music are layered with actuality, illusion, history, memory and dream.
As a painter and a musician I do not define a separateness between representation and abstraction. All representational paintings must have a solid abstract foundation, and all abstract paintings represent something - if not themselves. Music is generally accepted as an abstraction easier than the medium of paint, but sounds often conjure visual images or memories of experiences in the listener’s mind. The nature of human perception requires the mind to make references to something already known.
As a student of Willem de Kooning from the age of fifteen I have been intrigued with the question of how much information is required to manifest representation on canvas, and, at the same time, allowing the paint to transcend depiction and become its own material reality. The contrast of illusions also boosts the material reality; i.e. when de Kooning cut out a magazine picture of a mouth and pasted it on one of his “women” paintings he said, “It helps to have this real thing.”
The “Stream” paintings are about the actual landscape of a stream on my property in Killingworth, CT, but they are also about the layering of stream of consciousness, history of nature and mankind, memory and dream. The space of this combination of elements exists in perception and imagination and is made real on the canvas. Different periods in art history are referenced to bring this imagery to reality.
The cave paintings were the inspiration for the grisaille foundational layer. Those timeless expressions by the first painters present a tactile reality to their mythopoeic illusions. In searching for the technical approach to this layer I had a dream that I visited the caves, and was invited inside by the artists to watch them create a wall painting. I was instructed to grind charcoal and add animal fat (which I substituted with black oil paint) as a binder, and apply the drawing with fingers and sticks.
The physical bed of a stream is organized by the flow of the water that runs through it. The drawing of forms in the first layer of the paintings was found by “Stream” of consciousness. The grisaille layer is visible in the final painting to maintain a psychological dimension in contrast to the physical illusions.
The visual richness and romance of the actual stream bed struck references to the paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites. As involvement with the depiction of the stream bed evolved, so did the realization that my life paralleled that of The Lady of Shalott. Both of us solitarily creating images in the house on the hill with the stream below, and living life through reflections and dreams of the world and a shining equestrian knight in armor.
As the stream paintings contrasted the illusions with the actual, so did the delusion of ideal romance with the cynical awareness of reality. Another dream occurred where the bow ornament from the Lady’s boat in Waterhouse’s painting was discovered while searching in the mud on the stream bed. The title “Changing Horses in Mid Stream” suggests that she did not arrive at her destination in Camelot. The bow ornament discovered becomes an archeological artifact that suggests that she either came to her senses and abandoned her boat or experienced a tragic end. A painter is required to see reality.
The layer on top of the surface of the water defines movement and stillness, and captures the image of the world above - reflections, light and color in opacities and transparencies. The flat and the dimensional realities share the same plane in contrast between illusion and material reality in paint.
The musical composition is layered like the paintings and uses cello music in combination with recordings of the actual stream, the sounds of a stream of migrating birds, and other actual sounds that occur in the landscape near the stream. The layers of the paint on the canvases seem to have a sound, and the layers of music create visual images. Both combine to create a stream of perception by the audience.
To view Joan's video for her Streams Installation click on the link below: