"We are all extensions of our collective history"

Loreena Mckennit

A Bridge To Ancestors

My images come from a flickering shadow of all I have seen or been to this point. In early work I see ghosts of the future and now they appear as ghosts of the past. They change directions, forms and shapes, but have a lineage that runs between them.

A work becomes part of a series often quite accidentally. For instance, recently an early image of Broken Bridge I surfaced and informed Broken Bridge II, done eleven years later. The theme of breaking away from my North American cultural bias returned as substance for an important change that was about to occur.

Broken Bridge I was painted in Hangzhou, China in the fall-winter of 1987. Traditionally site specific, it's a famous bridge after the first snow on the West Lake. Many artists and poets have written about and painted it. For me it became a metaphor of the confusion in me as I left behind my mono-cultural dialogue for a broader cross-cultural dialogue, and of all the changes that informed and focused the work over the next decade.

Broken Bridge II was painted eleven years later in California. Like a broken friendship, the dangling calligraphic line floats over a crevice. It signaled another cultural jolt soon to happen. By spring I was in Scotland, reclaiming my Celtic ancestry: 5000 year old tombs, villages and standing stone circles; the 12th century Orkney runes left by Norse travelers; a nineteenth century account of forestry written by my great-grandfather and preserved in the Edinburgh University library; the 20th century sites of two World Wars; and everywhere in moors and glens-voices of ancestors.

In contrast to these seemingly accidental events, The Four Seasons (1975-1980) deals with a quiet universal connection between people and the natural world. The circle and the square are basic forms that nest in us all. These four oils on canvas were painted during my days of communal living in the Salmon River Mountains. They celebrate a span of time consumed with learning how to make art while surrounded with a growing family (four children, a husband and a large group of 1968 homesteaders) that came together from the Diggers' Willard Street house in San Francisco. It was a time of intense relationships and not as much solitude with nature as I would have liked.

The seasons come and go in constant succession, each with their blessings and distractions. The light changes and I feel the elements of earth, air, fire, wood and water change the mood of a painting. But an image like a broken-bridge seems always to signal a major change about to occur. There is movement as each new bridge is constructed from a broken one. The horse travels past towering outposts, through many seasons, to rebirth through a doorway ringed with fire. A watchstone catches an inner satellite beam. The bridge maker once again is traveling on a new path .

Elsa Marley, 1999


Copyright 1999 Elsa Marley. All rights reserved.

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latest update: 9 Feb 00