Saturday, September 05, 2009

Work of the Artist ~ The Space Between

Pacific Madrone, madrona trees in our yard
These Madrona (aka Pacific Madrone, aka Arbutus) trees like our 5-acre, ridge-top property and we are quite happy to have them, even though they shed piles and piles of leaves every year - woody leaves that can take many years to decompose.

We are especially fascinated with their bark and the way it changes throughout the year. We love the way its colors are highlighted by the warm light of afternoon sunshine or glisten and become saturated after a rain shower.

Pacific Madrone, madrona trees red orange bark
Here is how the bark looks in the spring... red-orange, really quite a deep color. Then in the late summer, the bark fractures and peels, revealing a new, yellow-green bark color.

Pacific Madrone, madrona trees yellow green bark
Above is how it looks after the peeling is complete and before it begins to turn red again.

Pacific Madrone, madrona trees, shade side bark on trunk
Even the more dense bark on the north (or shaded) side of the trunk fractures a little in the heat of summer.

Last evening Robert and I were headed to town to hear a lecture at the community theatre. On the trail to our garage, we simultaneously stopped in our tracks to investigate and admire three small fractures that were highlighted in the glow of sunset. I didn't have my camera with me then, but this is how the spot looks today at noon.

Pacific Madrone, madrona, fracturing bark
The PowerPoint presentation we attended after our Madrona moment was by James Hubbell, a visionary artist and architect. We had also attended a "conversation" (Q & A) session with him the previous day. I was struck by his wisdom, especially regarding the work of the artist.

In several different ways, he explored his belief that
the space between the edges of two different things is where beauty, understanding and energy resides. The work of the artist is to create a bridge between these edges - between dissimilar and/or opposing elements... sad and happy, love and hate, east and west, Russia and USA, poor and wealthy, red and green, Venus and Mars, soft and harsh - and to examine the space between them.*
Like the Madrona bark!

His words make me think about my beading and how/if/where I might have created a bridge or studied the space between. The best example is probably my BJP piece from last spring showing the part of my husband's personality that is deeply affected by his parents' alcoholism and the part of him that is clean, sober and public. You can read/see more about it here.

improvisational bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead journal project, the wall
I guess in this case, the space between is a narrow, wiggly wall with small holes in it where light enters dark and dark enters light. I recall feeling really good about this piece... it was compelling and important from start to finish.

Maybe Mr. Hubbell is onto something significant about art, worthy of consideration. In the future, as I contemplate a new piece and a tickle of an idea comes forward, I will think about the edges of the idea, where it meets something else. Will I find more energy there? I think so!

Pacific Madrone, madrona, fracturing bark
Is the photo above (the one that most clearly explores the edges and space between old and new bark) the most interesting of the Madrona pictures on this post? What do you think? What space between have you explored recently?
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* The statement above is my interpretation of Mr. Hubbell's words, not a direct quote.

PS ~ Sept 6th ~ The comments on this post add several intriguing threads to the topic... Please take the time to read them!


  1. Oh, Robin, you do keep our brains busy! I don't have any ready answers tonight, being a little tired and think-lazy. Tomorrow I am off for a week of relaxation visiting a friend. He has already cooked for me! (Which will certainly help to round out my edges even more.) But how can I relax with all those edgy questions on my mind? Or maybe relaxation will help me find the answers? Whatever, thank you so much for this most intriguing blog post!

    Keep well,

  2. Hi Robin, I saw your title and looked at the first picture of the trees and tried seeing what was between the tree trunks as "the space in between" to see just what you were talking about...THEN I began to read and realized that you weren't talking about the spaces between the trunks at all!!! LOL. The stuff between the trunks is interesting though since it is different than what is on the outer side of the trunks.

    There is much to think about in the rest of your post. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Amazing post Robin!! thank you for sharing your pictures adn your insights and those of mr. Hubbell. Alot of good things to think about. edges also mean change and lots of good comes with change tho often not with ease!!
    I think that my favorite picture is the one of the North side of the tree, with next being the last pic!

    BTW, you asked me to let you know when I put my bracelets up on Etsy. you can see them here.
    thanks again for a very thought provoking post!


  4. Boy, did this question hit my hot button! As soon as I read it, I realized that I've been exploring the spaces between illness and health, joy and depression, sun and rain, old and young, light and dark...the words just keep coming...mega thanks for asking - this may be exactly what I address in next year's bjp. I feel like I've been lost and just found a map and a compass.

  5. These trees are really beautiful and fascinating...

    I wonder if bead embroidery is not in fact a total space between activity. Very interesting concept, thanks for sharing !

  6. lOl, i agree with Sabine, you do keep our minds busy! here I was just totally admiring the TREE, and then realized what you were suggesting... Oh yes, the inbetween! the thoughts and actions that make up the WHOLE... like saying all the things that I've done in my life have made me what I am today, right? a concept worthy of thought. I can tell you've studied psychology....I need more coffee this morning for this one.

  7. Suzanne Kj.9:43 AM

    Your new photos on your blog are beautiful, Robin. I love close-up images of texture anyway, but your thoughts about the "space between" give an added dimension to think about. I've been fascinated with that idea for a long time now too. Maya Lin wrote a book called "Boundaries". It's about her work and the creative process, but Bruce Trinque, an Amazon reviewer explained further: "The title of the book is meant to express Lin's view that she and her creations inhabit the boundary between distinctly different qualities - architecture-art, natural-urban, inside-outside, Asian-American - simultaneously being neither and both."

    There's a magical, numinous quality about boundaries that other cultures have noted too...the idea of the river's edge, the space between life and death. It's one reason I like being on the Coast, standing on the edge between continent and ocean.

    But I think you are on to something when we add a third dimension to this: bridges, our attempts to connect, reconcile, or just understand these opposites and their relationships.
    You're right...this would make a great subject for a series of works in any medium.

  8. Another thought provoking post, Robin. Did you know that the Madrona tree is called Arbutus in British Columbia? It grows on Vancouver Island and was known for it's medicinal qualities in the olden days.

  9. I think one reason I like to do a yin/yang bjp is because of the space between. I just never thought of it in those terms,which I will now spend some time doing.

  10. To all ~ This is one reason why I blog... because you write such interesting comments, adding to our collective understanding of the topic! Yay!!!

    To Sabine ~ Never did anybody tickle my funny bone as much as you.."round out my edges" LOL!

    To Dawn ~ I wondered if that first picture would be misleading... but you're right about the stuff between the trunks being interesting.

    To Elizabeth ~ Yes, absolutely... the element of change is associated with edges - dynamic, timeless, sometimes difficult change!

    To Beadbabe ~ I could not be more delighted... a road map and compass... Wow!!!!

    To Helene ~ Bead embroidery is (by its very nature) a space between activity... Ha! I like that... very much!

    To Pam ~ Totally fascinating that you went from the edges and the space between them to wholeness (without even building a bridge). Ah, we seek that, don't we... and maybe this can help us!

    To Suzanne ~ You added much to this conversation. Thank you!!! I will get Lin's book from the library. I didn't think of the spiritual quality of the space between... most assuredly it can be found there.

    To Anne Marie ~ Yes, indeed, Arbutus menziesii is the genus and species name for this tree, in honor of the Scots naturalist Archibald Menzies who noted it during George Vancouver's voyage of exploration.

    To Susan ~ Yes, I've see this in many of your pieces. Interesting to have a different way to look at it, isn't it?!

  11. I have never seen these trees before. I love how you connected the lecture to the visionaries of the tree bark.

    Maybe my power lays in my quest to always find the good in a bad situation. Huh, I called it power, not energy. Is it the same thing? Well you have me thinking about transitions and energy and not just in art. Maybe it has to do with everything in life. From day one they have said Terry and I are opposites yet we lasted 38 years. Is that the energy of this union? Am I off the track? O well, this is what journaling and blogger is about.

    Thanks for the subject of yet another meditation.

  12. Anonymous8:04 AM

    This "spaces between" concept has been in and out of my thoughts since first reading this post yesterday. Then this morning it came to mind again as it played into something I read about Buddhism's four noble truths, and I wondered if there are navigable spaces between them. I started to get a "hurty head" thinking about that, so I'll pursue it later. In the meantime, I'll be noticing spaces and gaps that perhaps do some bridging from one thing to the next. Hopefully, it will be more visual than my earlier observations, thus preserve my head. ;)

  13. What a thought provoking post -- it sounds like we will all be thinking about those spaces between. I have to get my head around the idea. Meanwhile I loved the picture of the dense bark on the north - does that look like a beading project or what?!

  14. Amazing food for thought as always, Robin. I've been intrigued by Madronas for years (I'm a big fan of the late Joan Colvin's art quilts, many of which feature Madronas). I've never seen one in real life, but even from a photo they are awe inspiring for me, as well as being very peaceful.

    Very interesting concept about the edges and spaces between things. Energy can be almost visible at times. Those glimpses of visible energy are what I try to capture in my sketchbooks. I haven't yet tried to make a wallhanging from one of those sketches, though.

  15. Great post! I recently explored the skinny streets in between the buildings in Venice!

  16. To Carol ~ From what I've seen of your work and the comments you make, you do have power (energy?) to see the good in bad, and I love that about you! The thought you pose about the space between being important in more ways than art is very intriguing. I think it is!

    To Barbara ~ I don't want anybody to suffer a "hurty head" over this... You raise and interesting point about the four truths of Buddhism. You've inspired me to read up on them.

    To Penny ~ Yes, to see a wee fracture in all that dense bark is amazing!

    To Aida ~ I hope to see some of your sketches someday and will Google Joan Colvin to see if I can find pictures of her madrona art quilts.

    To Lone Beader ~ Leave it to you to make me chuckle... I love the beads you bought!

  17. I do like the last photo best. And I am intrigued by this idea of the space in between.

    My mother used to warn me not to pick up a child too quickly after waking or put a child down to sleep only when they're sleeping. Instead, she said, to let them lie there quietly with their thoughts -- not yet sleeping, not yet waking -- for this time, she said, is when most of the growing and learning occurs. When they have the time to put things in perspective and write them to their harddrive. I also remember that Allie tends to meditate in the morning just after sleep and before rising.

    For me, I am exploring the space in between my last job and what I will be next. And, it's funny, when folks ask, "what are you doing now?" I can't answer with a specific job -- yet, in my mind, I feel like I've accomplished MORE after my job than when I had it...yet, it is between...

    And, I always feel this sense of space BETWEEN bead journal projects...where I lived and birthed one...and i'm leaving creating and making a new one...and establishing a rhythm and relationship with a new friend. They both take time...yet, perhaps, our growth as an artist from one piece to the next grows from the processing in between...the laying still before falling asleep or waking...

    I'm going to try to find Maya Lin's book too. Maybe we can read it "together" and have a book club discussion...and maybe someone else here would like to join us...

  18. I wonder if that is what abstract art is about. Not looking at how things are but how they are between things. I am always drawn to it where most of my family wonders what I see in it but, well,hmmm...

  19. So much to think about here, Robin. I've tried but I'm either dryly philosophical or poorly poetic. I like best the 4th picture, the most textured one, with a bit of the new growth popping through.

    I've been exploring that space between health and illness. In that space between I can act. I can meditate, reach out, make art. I don't know the outcome, but that is where I live most fully, aware of both sides.

  20. Back again after some relaxation, good food (but no cooking done by myself!) and my thoughtlines running hot parallel to holidaying.

    I haven't got very far yet - only realized that I do feel uncomfortable with the word "edge". I prefer to speak of borders - for sure crossing borders is what I am doing all the time, sometimes unconciously, sometimes willing myself to take the step. So I prefer to look at the two sides of a border, not so much at a space in between. There is no doubt that this point of view, too, gets art on the way and enriches it.

    I am afraid that's all for today, but the topic will be with me for a long time yet.

    Very interesting and beautiful, those Madrona trees. I had never heard of them before. For myself, I call them Cat Trees - shedding something all the time (like cats shed fur and the top layers of their claws), very particular about where they live and what they eat and drink, not liking to move from one place to another.

    Bye for now, and best wishes,

  21. I've done some more reflecting on your post, and made my response on my blog

    It's called Meeting the Troll Beneath the Bridge.

    Live Creative!

  22. This constant thinking does give rise
    to a question: Was it wise
    to read your post - I hear your laughter -
    before my trip, instead of after?
    All my thoughts keep me so busy
    that half the time I'm feeling dizzy.
    One last comment I will write down
    before I'm going out to town:

    After having taken a little time to look at James Hubbell's internet site, I have finally discovered that he is not an architect solely obsessed with edges, which makes me feel a lot better. (Reminds me, in some aspects, of Hundertwasser who claims that there are no straight lines (edges) in nature and that they should therefore have no place in art and architecture).

    For the "space between" I have come to my own definition: To me it means a time/place of transition. If I am not totally wrong, Susan's comment also explores this idea. Transition, on the other hand, is a soft process and does not comply with the word "edges". In any case, the in-between is not the only place art is deriving from, just one of them.

    But then again, I feel it strongly,
    I may be looking at this wrongly.
    The fact is that I can't resist
    to think and toy and play and twist
    until I'm comfy with the matter.
    Hope you do not mind my chatter.

    I also hope I don't sound too muddle-headed, and will now enjoy the last two days of my vacation.


  23. To Sabine ~ Once again your zany sense of humor and grace with words leaves me in awe, speechless and chuckling! Thanks you!!!

    To Freebird ~ Yes, I think you're onto something about the reason for the appeal of abstract art. I've never thought of it that way before.

    To SusanE ~ You too have added a thought-provoking comment! I love what your Mother said about children. Makes sense. You went out of the box thinking about the space between... Love it!


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!