…Back in Toronto, I continued to document a particular curve of the Etobicoke Creek ravine whose layers of sediment accumulated 450 million years of time (Upper Ordovician Georgian Bay Formation). During these regular visits I became interested in the broken trees scattered along the paths. They made for great subjects visually, and conceptually the trees pointed to an ecosystem in transition as they exemplified the process of secondary succession.
Watching and drawing them I thought about the role failing plays in growth, environmentally and in my personal life. The trees connected me to the ravine’s ongoing change, a place where the new and the primordial interacts. I thought about resilience, seeing new shoots fanning out from trunks that were broken and contorted. I contemplated the spirit of the forest sitting at a base of a particularly impressive husk; sharp spikes of broken branches crowning a thick maple trunk whose top half broke off years ago. And when our family got the news I thought about my mother and the cancer she was enduring. Being amongst the trees helped.
I made the first impression print using creek water collected in January of 2019 having sketched out a stencil of a broken tree nearby. After applying numerous coats of water onto the paper, removing the stencil revealed a faint image of the broken tree. The water did not have as strong a residue as some of the other river water I used in my previous series. To give the next tree a stronger graphical presence I left parts of the stencil as part of the finished work. Doing so made the image pop and it gave the work a deeper sense of depth. It illustrated the interaction between natural and manufactured elements shaping landscape and its’ unfinished quality fit the idea of landscape as continually developing. Moving forward, all the prints in the series made use of this technique.
With the arrival of spring, that year, I had an opportunity to visit my sister in Barcelona. While there I made a series of “Impressions” depicting parts of the city where natural and human systems interacted. My first piece used salt water from the Balearic Sea to depict a wave breaker line protecting human made beaches that mark Barcelona’s coast. The residue turned out to be very faint here also with the added bonus of salt crystals sparkling faintly. For the second piece I decided to try to use the water from Rio Besos, a river bordering the east side of the city, in hopes of a more dramatic result.
On the way through the hills I came across an impressive formation of the Opuntia cactus (Prickly pear) growing on a small ridge of sun baked red clay. Having finished the stencil and not having any water in the vicinity I used a chunk of a cactus pad smearing its wet insides onto the page which left a faint green residue. Thinking back to how I used the Amazonian clay a year back during the LABVERDE residency, I stuck a piece of red clay into the jelly and began to rub with it. The effect was wonderful as the combination behaved almost like an oil stick. The red colour and texture of the clay got me excited about experimenting with what else I could use from the places I was portraying in their depiction.
Returning to Toronto, I started using everything that I could get my hands on, bark, mud, leaves, shale, flowers, etc. for the rest of the “Broken Trees” impressions. In the process of making the work I thought about how earlier humans rubbed organic material into walls to depict their landscape. Now we use these traces to see how far our species’ culture formation reaches back in time.
Created at a place where deep time is so accessible, these prints speak to the present version of the Etobicoke Creek valley. As the valley continues to be shaped by natural systems and generations of humans leaving their marks on it the prints will retain a sample record of what could be found here at that time of their creation. As things continue to change they can serve as a marker to gauge the direction of the change we have chosen.
(Edited from: “Hinting at a silhouette, a shape of reality defined through relationships” essay)