A Yet Un-nameable Dream 

Jamie Treacy - Regal Being in the Murk_
Regal Being in the Murk; acrylic, colored pencil, and cut paper on paper; 22″ x 30″ | 2016

Project Narrative:

A dream is a fertile beginning point for an artist because it so quickly dissolves if not documented. Dreams are the kernels of stories and the underpinnings of my paintings. My dreams, as with my earliest childhood memories, remain with me as color and texture impressions.  Even when I’m not able to name the characters projected upon my subconscious I can clearly recall the lighting, the time of day, the surface and a sense of the atmosphere.

Each work in this series begins with the dream memory in the form of a color field—in my case an expanse of similar colors that depict an atmosphere. While abstract, each painting could be categorized by its type of atmosphere: above-ground, below-ground, underwater, on land and in space. Within this atmospheric space, its occupants exist along a spectrum of opposites: biological and mechanical; menacing and delicate. I shy away from constructing explicitly recognizable beings, but instead borrow from universal devices and features found in the organic and synthetic: the jointed arm, the pinching claw, the net that gathers and the aperture that spews. Working in cut paper interests me because it allows for both intense planning and experimentation.  When I’m drawing and cutting out my more elaborate creatures, my reference material might include electron microscope images of algae or a section of a spider’s web. When I’m creating an imagined environment with layers of marks and milky puddles of acrylic, I imagine distant nebulas and gaseous currents in deep space.

This body of work is heavily influenced by my love of science and science fiction. As a high school student, I remember adoring Biology class and the assignment of diagramming life’s processes through illustration.  Later, while majoring in drawing in painting at the University of Michigan, I briefly explored the field of scientific illustration. I was drawn to the subject matter in my scientific illustration assignments: bug’s wings, ostrich bones, shriveled bell peppers and preserved organs.  I quickly discovered that my expressive and heavy-handed drawing approach was not conducive to illustrating these subjects in a way that would be actually useful to a budding scientist, but I was nevertheless enamored by the merging of science and creative expression.  Even as we invent devices to record the minuscule and distant wonders, artists are called upon on to imagine what can’t be directly observed.   One example is when I saw an artist’s depiction of how gravitational waves work in space. Black holes colliding and rippling the fabric of space-time—what a glorious and terrifying thought.

I seek to capture my reverence for the unknown by creating abstract worlds that remind one of spiritual touchstones. I use symmetry, repetition and strong figure-ground contrasts to evoke emotion from the layers of painted papers. Within my compositions, my creatures interact in gentle and menacing ways; and arrange themselves in glyph-like fashion as if trying to communicate in a language we haven’t yet learned.

View The Series as it Grows: Click on images to view in slideshow format


To Fortify the Forest Project Statement

To organize the greens,

To gather the browns,

To give names to the sticks.

To witness the departing moisture

And the membrane that cradles each droplet.

To welcome the presence of cracks and mold,

To escape from the city

Into the refuge of a leafy arc.

When I think about a forest refuge, I consider the comfort but also the sensation of being removed from my normal surrounding and how necessary this removal is.  The work in To Fortify the Forest is a deliberate visual escape.  In the bizarre botanical world, I imagine a post-human swamp wrapped in ferns, I witness ladybug infestations and I fuse the familiar with the out of place. These quiet spaces are a stage–devoid of an active human presence where I quietly document then invent stories.

In a span of four years of artistic growth, a common thread has been my inclination toward forests and botanical worlds as a setting for experimentation.  Beginning my creative process with photography, I gathered imagery from the Regional Parks in the Oakland Hills and the forests in my childhood home of West Michigan.  In the painting studio, I hovered between faithfully representing a natural space as I witnessed it  and  combining photos into a fictional space. In the canvasses with the most “realistic” attention to my subject, the compositions occupy the genres of still-life and abstraction through extreme shifts in scale and cropping. A dense clustering of spiderwebs that act as a soft-focus filter on the forest floor. A festooning of droplets across a web and a pulsing mass of insects on an instinctual pilgrimage. My painting approach centered on exploring color’s role in summoning emotion. Can a cluster of muted orange sticks titillate? Can a protruding root bathed in dusk-light cause the shoulders to slacken? The afternoon fluorescence of a maple on the Lake Michigan coast–can it enliven a spirit?

As I culled through past paintings and added to the series over the summer, I realized my paintings of plant-laden spaces contained evidence of climate and landscape change. In the front lines of our drought I was seeing an increase of trees with their root structures exposed and ground coverings clinging to mere hints of green vitality. Then, this August, I was compelled to paint the garish summer leaf-scapes of Michigan. Branches who are glorious gluttons for warmth and rain: At their August peak, they are the envy of the thirsty California branch; but in their winter dormancy, they are a bleak network of umber veins against against an impenetrable sky. This contrast intrigued me.

To Fortify The Forest is an exaltation of the plant world. An invitation for an escape from logic and our controlled structures. An illumination of the outstanding realms that exist in our periphery.

-Jamie Treacy, 2015


Photo by Xiomara Castro

stria |ˈstrīə| noun (pl. striae |ˈstrī-ē| )

Technical a linear mark, slight ridge, or groove on a surface, often one of a number of similar parallel features.

Anatomical any of a number of longitudinal collections of nerve fibers in the brain.

Writing about this body of work keeps bringing up a memory of the eerie hills of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It’s been 15 years since I saw those striped and cross-contoured hills  and their image still fuels my work. I was fascinated by the bands of color that wrap around the outcroppings, that seem to simultaneously swell up from and erode into the earth. I camped among those hills as a college student, and remember feeling like I had entered into an extraterrestrial expanse.  Even the water in the valley creeks was bizarre.  Fine pale gray sediment mixed with the water near my campsite, creating a river of milk.  I couldn’t resist wading through it.  Waist-deep in the opaque, churning waterway, fearful of a surprise slither from a hidden snake, I immersed myself in the history illustrated in the hills’ striations.

I remain fascinated with how the earth builds its forms. In tandem, I’m fascinated by the way living beings are held together with strands, fibers and membranes.  When I first looked up the word “striation” I realized how well it described this internal landscape I wanted to create, and also guides the way I want to work as an artist.  The pieces in Striation are built with visible marks and parts.  I’ve used cut strips of paper, drawn marks, surface rubbings and brushstrokes.  As a painter, I’m captivated by how my hand-drawn, painted or cut marks sometimes exist as independent objects – much the way small mosaic tile fragments separate from their whole when viewed up close – but also by how optical mixing occurs from further away, when the stria merge into the larger form in which they support. Each medium I’ve included is integral to the finished surface and the content of the painting.  Each work is part painting and part drawing, and in many works, part collage.  In the past I’ve only used cut paper for hard-edged graphic shapes, but in these paintings, delicate transparent papers are layered to obscure, and embed shapes beneath. Colored pencil is also an important addition because of it’s ability to subtly alter color, while enhancing the bumps and ridges in the paper fibers.

Photo by Xiomara Castro

For the last 10 years, I’ve used the terms “fictional landscape” and “internal worlds” to describe my painted environments. However, with this new work, I’ve challenged my own understanding of the landscape as a backdrop for living things to occupy. The swellings and depressions of land have actually become part of the story I want to tell. In the same way I’ve felt a lasting and emotional link to the painfully gorgeous Badlands hills, I want to create geologic and biologic forms that extend filaments of emotion to the viewer, to blur the lines between the setting and the characters within the setting.

The real-life terrors of drought, climate change and industrial waste were heavily present as I created these works. In the same way that science-fiction writers hold a mirror up to society to help us examine our world, I hope to do the same through my paintings.  In addition to the barrenness  of the Badlands, I’ve been inspired by diatoms (a type of algae), starfish and the chemical sludge lakes in China. All of these sources speak to the duality of our environment: its power and its vulnerability. While considering these works, I invite the viewer to look on the periphery of our infrastructure–into the soil, the water and the atmosphere–and to see ourselves as ingredients in a grand structure.

-Jamie Treacy,  May 2015

My Last Artwork on Apgar Street

Last night I put the finishing touches on my “Starfish Kites of Remembrance” for the Songs and Sorrows/Day of the Dead Exhibition at the Oakland Museum. While building these kites from layers of painted Mulberry and Unryu paper, and learning about the quite disturbing “Starfish Wasting Disease” that inspired my kite’s content, I’ve also been gradually moving our house and my studio.

Artists, packrats, hoarders and collectors all know how traumatic a physical change of space can be.  I’ve now lived in California more than ten years and the artwork I’ve created, to my shock, filled an entire U-Haul truck.  The process of packing my paintings, cataloging them and putting them into storage was a great purging but also felt upsetting.  I was hugely anxious that the paintings would be damaged in transit or will be damaged in storage.  I also became acutely aware of how many heavy and awkward objects I’ve brought into the world.

While dismantling my studio, I thought about some advice my fabulous artist-aunt Joan Tanner told me in one of our many “Downtrodden Artist Counseling Sessions.”  She told me that the vigorous and consistent artist must become a “Master Archivist” of their own work, and that we must always be prepared for our archive to be called upon.  During this moving process I’ve thought a lot about what my painting inventory may look like in another ten, twenty or even fifty years of vigorous art making.  I may end up selling my work more frequently and being barely able to keep up with demand, but I also might accrue a barn-load of scarcely viewed art objects.  The latter prospect sounds a touch frightening to me.  Although, it may be one of the risks of the career.

I find it noteworthy that my final artworks in my Apgar Studio of five years, are light enough to glide through air. I took them outside to spray a protective fixative on them and photograph them in the perfectly even cast shadow that blankets my soon-to be-former backyard and I marveled at how effortlessly I carried them… yet they have such an unapologetic  and vibrant presence!  Hmmm.  Maybe more work like this is still to come.

Below are some of my favorite studio shots from my time on Apgar Street.  I’ll miss this simple closet-less bedroom whose drywall I be-speckled with chartreuse and riddled with screw-holes. In this room I estimate that I created nearly 300 drawings, paintings and cut paper pieces over the last five years and I have a bulging flat file and shed to prove it.  The room echoes more now, even with just the heavy paneled art pieces gone. Until I have my barn-studio and my fabulously customized art storage system, I’m off to damage more rented drywall and hopefully start sharing some more of my inventory with the world.

Unearthed, Unveiled Exhibition: Project Statement

Forging Ritual

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To be a maker of art objects at a time when our visual media are increasingly presented in virtual forms, without a tangible body; in a place where artists are becoming increasingly more cramped for space; I am more careful and mindful each time I use my creativity to bring another object into the world. “What purpose will this artwork serve in my life, and what purpose do I want it to serve for my viewer?” These are the types of questions I ask myself as I construct my cut paper pieces. In this body of work, the choice to make paintings in a physical form rather than digital is more than a technical preference but a way for me to explore why a still, one-of-a-kind image deserves to occupy space in our lives.

I grew into my identity as a painter because I realized my need to create is linked to my mental health. In my early work, expression was everything to me: My work’s primary purpose was to construct  a visual language to communicate my identity to the world and I thought very little about what would happen to my work once it was completed. However, in recent years, I find myself needing my artwork to be more than an expression of my identity but also an ingredient for my legacy, and an emblem for my spiritual path

In my research for the body of work presented in Unearthed, Unveiled, I studied abstract paintings by Lee Krasner and Arthur Dove and the Oceanic Arts collection at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. I’m fascinated how artworks made on opposite ends of the globe from each other all use mark-making (carved marks, brushstrokes and drawn marks) as a storytelling tool. In Lee Kranser’s series Night Journeys, she created works that used wild, gestural arcs as a conduit to work through her marriage strife and her insomnia. A few decades earlier, Arthur Dove used paint to transform the random rhythms found in nature into spiritual and sensual symbols. Artists in Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia use patterns, geometric forms and cross-hatching to form a personal visual language to describe real events, but also dreamed experiences in bark paintings and polychromed sculpture. In tandem with the artists I described above, I, too am energized by the rhythms in nature; the cathartic quality of the painterly gesture and the idea of art-making as a spiritual practice.

Over the past four years, I have been exploring the possibilities of using cut paper as a means to develop my own visual language. Within these works, I’m interested in displaying a sense of tension between opaque sharp-edged forms and the more diaphanous delicate forms. The systems I’ve developed to mix collage, painting and drawing provide me a formal structure for conveying this tension, and also a narrative stage. A rite of passage, a first attempt at communication, an excavation of something long hidden: These are the events portrayed on my narrative stage. The title Unearthed, Unveiled resonates because the essence of this work is about the revealing and examining of a hidden life-form…a latent intelligence that yearns to be given the chance to communicate.

In my quest to create artwork that goes beyond being autobiographical and identity-centric, I’ve started to think of my art practice as a way to form new icons—symbols that speak to a mixing of influences and the overlapping of cultures and belief systems that so enrich our community and my life. My hope is that these artworks create a grounding and iconic impact each time the viewer passes by, but also a layered visual that invites an ever-changing interpretation.