Navigating California interstates, senior comps, and what actually interests me. All by hand.
February 10, 2014
Blogger: Miriam Subbiah
If you asked me a year ago what I would do for my senior comprehensive project (comps), I would have had no idea. All I knew was that I loved linocut reduction prints. The clean sensation of gauging into the rubbery linoleum was like meditation for my hands. And yet a year later, somehow the entire project flowed out naturally.
It began when my friend Abby and I drove a sixteen foot U-Haul truck down from Seattle to Los Angeles at the start of the summer. This was the first road trip I had ever taken, and I was struck by the California landscape, made even more dramatic by our elevated position within the truck. Three months later when I had to pitch an idea for my comps, I still could not stop thinking about the bald patches on the hills due to logging, the miles and miles of crops within ten feet of the highway, and aspects of trucking culture I had never noticed before. As a studio art major, I have always felt a necessity to create things with my hands, and I found the connection between these two interests when I read a quote by Isaac Asimov: “The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.” Lead by my observations on my first road trip and an interest in further investigating the nostalgic feeling of driving cross country, I took another more meandering drive through California with my fellow studio art major and good friend, Abbey.
We started out of Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon with no destination or itinerary other than to drive and observe. Over the course of the weekend, we headed north up the 5, crossing over in central California to loop through the northern edge of Yosemite National Park. As we drove in the clouds of ash and burnt black hills of the expansive forest fire, we photographed every scene that inspired us. Giving up our cell phones and safety net of Apple maps, we broke out the Rand McNally road atlas my father gave me when I first got my car. Until now, it had sat unopened in my trunk, slowly getting bent and dented from the piles of groceries and luggage I would throw carelessly on top of it. But suddenly, while driving only to observe and not simply to arrive, the atlas became the simplest way to plot our path. The small towns dotted along the 395 interstate were places of mystery and intrigue, and for the first time we drove looking ahead instead of down at the phone in our hands.
We pulled into truck stops, slowly driving through and observing the massive machines that are the backbone of American lifestyle. We ventured off paved roads out into the desert on dusty trails to investigate skeletal frames of former buildings. While I was interested in the juxtaposition of trucking culture and antiquated hand-made artifacts, Abbey sought out imagery of ghost towns and abandoned structures.
Ultimately, my comps consisted of five reduction linocut prints. The reduction linocut process allowed me to engage in these moments I observed on the road through hands-on creative work. Each print was created by gauging into a block of linoleum and then inking the remaining surface with a brayer. After printing that color, these steps were repeated on the same block, layering ink on the paper through multiple reductions to develop the final image. Depicting images from my road trip in this manner builds in an impression of the artists hand in the representation of the journey. Some of my prints were scenes we passed that were nostalgic, portraying hand-painted signs that stood still while the entire country rushed past at sixty-five miles per hour. Others were the juxtaposition of current fast-living ways with more simple, local options that are still available but less prevalent today. Some focused on the sensation of a road trip, the blur of scenery passing by and the narrative aspect of the landscapes flipping past like a film reel.
In the end, returning back into Los Angeles with 1100 more miles on my car, I felt like I had learned a new way of looking at my surroundings. The road trip provided a moment of clarity and simplicity, and it was a total high. The coolest and most unexpected part of this entire project was the way in which an Oxy assignment prompted me to explore California, think critically about what I found interesting, and then bring my ideas back to share with the Occidental community through our final gallery show. I felt reconnected with my environment and inspired to develop more creative work with my hands.