Moss Time

Through the month of April, I’ll be showing my Satellite series of prints at eye gallery on the Commons in downtown Ithaca. If you’re in the area, you should stop by tomorrow night, April 1st, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. for the reception. I’ll also have a limited edition print available that is related to the Satellite works. You can view the Satellite print series here.

For the last few years, I’ve been collecting moss and bringing it back to my studio. I started to notice that there was a lot of variation in forms, and I later discovered there are basically two types of moss: Acrocarpous and Pleurocarpous, the first being a slower-growing variety that tends to emerge in a more upright manner and often found in dense mounds, and the second type having a chaotic, sprawling growth pattern that regenerates more quickly than the first.

I had originally tried to keep my moss collections hydrated and living, but ultimately they all dried out as I became less disciplined with my watering routine. I was surprised to find that the form of moss hardly changed when dried, but mostly there was a discernible shift in color and texture, from vibrant, lush greens, to an ashen, brittle version of its former self. 

For the first work in the Satellite series, I constructed the form entirely with living moss, thinking that the color would be a pertinent part of the work. After photographing the piece, I ultimately tossed the color, finding that it distracted from the intricacy and complexity of the moss. I had stitched together many photographs of the form to achieve the focus and resolution I wanted, but I felt it was far too much information and didn’t achieve what I ultimately wanted. By isolating the image down to tonal fields (much like I might do in the creation of a screen print image) I found that the piece took on a new quality, like that of a fossil, or of a planetary body seen from afar where the detail gets lost in the distance. 

For the second Satellite print, I started collecting moss that was popping up in small, circular forms on our home’s shingled roof. Conveniently, this roof is right out my studio window, so I would go out and scrape the moss and come back in to make my arrangements. I started to wonder about the consciousness of moss, and think how odd it would be if the moss arranged itself into neat halftone patterns, and thus my idea for Satellite no. 2 came about. 

For Satellite no. 3, I mixed it up a bit and used lichen. There’s a great, peaceful spot near the Finger Lakes National Forest called Ballard Pond, and around the pond, an old wooden fence has been overtaken with lichen. From my observations, lichen is more finicky than moss about where it will grow, but for whatever reason it thrived on this fence. This is where I collected all the lichen for this piece, and I found that it had nearly no discernible change in appearance when uprooted, except that it became more fragile when dried out. For this work I used the same circular form and process of extracting detail, but for this piece I wanted it to have a stark polarity with the other two in the series, so I inverted the tones. 

These works were printed as an edition of two, 40 in. x 40 in. inkjet prints. They have now made their way around New York State to three shows including the Dowd Gallery at SUNY Cortland, the Olean Public Library Gallery, and now back through Ithaca being shown at eye gallery. 

Through March, with the upcoming show in mind, I revisited some of the ideas I was working with in the Satellite pieces, and worked on a smaller scale. I repurposed some of my moss from the earlier works and based the arrangement on the Fibonacci sequence often seen in plants, such as the way sunflower seeds grow in a spiral pattern. When photographed and printed, I felt the work needed something more, so I took my edition of 25 to the silkscreen studio and laid down a layer of very translucent ink as a background color and overlay to further enforce the shape of a gibbous moon (the moon when in a state between half and full), which is where the work gets its title, Gibbous Sphere.

Gibbous Sphere (detail), Inkjet and silkscreen print, 13.5" x 11", 2016

This past winter, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s, The Signature of All Things, and her main character, a botanist, gets caught up in the concept of “moss time” vs. human time– the idea that moss is on a totally different time scale than we are as humans, and while it moves incredibly slow by comparison to us, it has its own trajectory in the course of its long life. 

I hope you can join me tomorrow evening at eye gallery. By the way, Lou will be playing music for the opening reception too, so that’s even more reason to come out!