Recently, in conversation with an artist friend, I tried to describe the source of the new figures in my current work. I asked: “Do you know how, in dreams, you sometimes sense a figure or presence that is lurking just out of sight, maybe somewhere just behind you, down very low or looming above?” She replied: “No. My dreams aren’t like that.” I laughed at the bluntness of her response, but it made me think about how we each have our own sense of powerful presences in life, whether they occur in dreams or in our waking reality, and how they can serve as emblems of mystery or perhaps even meaning in our understanding of personal symbols.
My work has always mined dreams as a source for imagery and narrative, but in this new work, the narrative has taken a backseat to that emblematic presence in the form of mysterious personal totems, or spirit figures, both animal and human. To be sure, the narrative is still present in the work, especially with the text-heavy drawings included in the show, but the paintings are solemnly mute, relying on that sense of symbolic power that an “Emblem” can contain.
These totemic figures have allowed me to explore color, symmetry, and pattern in a way that is new for me and quite exciting from the perspective of painting and drawing. The tension between ornamental flatness and naturalistic volume in these works has pushed the practice into new visual terrain that feels like the opening of a novel and an unfamiliar door in my creative process. “Emblems” represents my first foray into the space that exists beyond that door.
- Fred Stonehouse