What is it about some shapes—simple, play-school-building-block shapes—that defies our failing attention spans? There’s the moon, round as it was the first time I saw it, and just as intoxicating. Here’s a triangular leaf, like all the other leaves I’ve seen. I pick it up anyway and press it in my book. And again, I sit down to write. The squares of the laptop keys beautifully repeat a boxy softwood table.
Or is it that I’m repeating these shapes, as if I were reciting a poem? An epic recitation from birth to death, ongoing in the mind’s blind and dreaming center; an impossible geometry of consciousness pursuing its Euclidean soulmates in the world?
I suspect the latter, if only because there are artists like Patricia A. Bender whose photographs speak the same language as the Peruvian bards of the Nazca Lines or the medieval scribes whose astrological illuminations remain wondrously enigmatic.
Rain falls in thin longitudes outside my window. Nature is always drawing lines around the vulnerable parts of itself. From that vulnerability, Bender’s images extract the imperishable. I’m not sure I know what sacred means. But when I look at images like “Geometry 9” at the top of this feature, I feel pretty certain that I’ve seen it.
Patricia A. Bender on the Joys of Abstraction
“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see
physically with his eye . . . . Abstract art enables the artist to
perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite.
It is the emancipation of the mind.” ~ Arshile Gorky
This body of work, an obsession of mine for the past year, had its roots in a humble line and a modest circle. Georgia O’Keeffe combined the two in a small abstract that stopped me in my tracks as I wandered through the Museum of Modern Art and left me wondering why such a simple image could move me in such a profound way. I still don’t know the answer and I love that it remains a mystery.
Lee Ufan did the same thing to me at the Guggenheim with a single brush stroke: a big, fat, succulent mark that somehow evoked nothing and everything at once. How was this possible?
This, for me, is the wonder of abstraction and the crux of its power: its ability to move you in deep, inexplicable ways with the simplest of forms and with no reference to reality.
In large part, photography and realism have gone hand in hand. I found I wanted to leave the real world to others, descend into my darkroom, and try to create images I had never seen before; images that grabbed my heart and left me wondering why; images that arose from the most basic marks I could make on photographic paper.
So I began to cut and layer paper, draw with pencil to create paper negatives, stack glass on string and sugar crystals, all to see where it would take me. And this leads me to another central impetus of this work: it has been guided by a constant voice in my head asking, “What if I . . . ?” What if I added crayon, folded the paper, smudged the graphite? My creative process for all this work has been a joyful, intuitive, ongoing series of experiments in the darkroom to see what will happen if I . . . .
My only rule has been no erasing, no removing. Every mark or fold or tear I make stays and serves as a building block for the next mark or fold or tear. There can be no mistakes because the image I’m creating does not exist in the real world. It can’t be wrong. This rule has helped mute the insistent critic in my head and given me the freedom to play until an image feels right.
Clearly, not all my cameraless experiments are successful; some are just plain boring, while others are too flat or too busy. Enough of them work, though, to keep me interested and to keep me at it for some time to come.
Bender was recently selected for Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50. And look out for the November 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine where several of Bender’s geometries will be featured! To see more from this series and others, visit: https://patriciaabender.com. And follow Bender on Facebook and Instagram.
Featured image: Geometry 9 © Patricia A. Bender