Blue Anemone, made in 2011, was the result of a special collaboration with printmaker Maryanne Simmons of Wildwood Press, but the image’s origins stemmed from a group of works I began a decade before.
I started making tracings of hands in the late 1990’s, partly in response to the death from AIDS of a dear friend, whose beautiful hands I often found myself remembering. Mostly traced from women and children, each of the hand images was unique, an attempt at capturing the essence of a gesture and the fleeting moment in which it was made. Around the same time, in 1998, I was invited to teach printmaking at Yale University’s Norfolk summer program. Like many of the women in the exhibition I worked within the confines of children and family. My then-young children came with me, and we spent time in the nearby woods, making fairy houses out of moss and ferns. I collected and pressed various fern fronds, attracted to their spindly forms and primordial origins.
I soon began assembling the ferns inside the traced hands, securing them with layers of wax, their stems and fronds echoing the body’s bones, veins and circulatory systems. Ferns, and then other plants, became both the material and “tools” for drawing, subverting traditional mark-making methodologies. Later, I introduced printmaking, drawing and photographic techniques, like the Xerox transfer process, to the compositions, in order to further manipulate and “distance” the imagery. One night, experimenting in Photoshop, I accidentally inverted some of the images: the background darkened to a deep blue and the plant material turned a ghostly white. The works suddenly inhabited a space I had been searching for, straddling the indefinable boundary between presence and absence, material and immaterial, consciousness and the unconscious. For me they became emblematic not only of the people whose hands I traced, but of my own evolving artistic process - testimony to the passing of time and the quiet dissolution of memory.
Simmons first invited me to make prints at her St. Louis studio in 2006. Her huge presses enabled me to work at an unprecedented scale, with unprecedented freedom, and I developed a series of large, relief printed lithographs from my hand tracings. While I was working at Wildwood press, a close friend of Maryanne’s Courtney, who at the time wore a bright pink wig, impressed me by her warmth and instant understanding of my process. My experience at Wildwood Press was rich and very meaningful: it was a collaborative environment among like-minded women. Years later Maryanne told me that Courtney was terminally ill. We decided that Maryanne should trace her hands, which she then sent to me. As I set out looking for materials I came across some ethereal blue Anemones in the garden. It turned out Anemones were Courtney’s favorite flowers. She passed away before the print, Blue Anemone, was finished.
Women artists and printmakers have long been a huge influence on me. Obvious associations can be seen in Victorian botany photographs, like those of Anna Atkins, and the botanical prints and watercolors of Maria S. More immediately, I am indebted to the fearlessness of Louise Bourgeois, the political feminism of Nancy Spero, and the close friendship and collaboration I have with Kiki Smith, where we have spent many hours teaching together as well as working in various print shops together joyful scratching on copper.