Etching Creative Energy: “Creating Matter: The Prints of Mildred Thompson” at the Carlos Museum


Modernist all-over compositions invoke everything from creation to string theory in the works on view in “Creating Matter: The Prints of Mildred Thompson.” Despite the small space, the exhibition is successful in suggesting process. Three black-and-white prints and one large color print, all from the 1999 “Caversham” series, allow one to watch the artist work through different ways of composing dynamic force from an undulating beam of energy and its offshoots. A series of five 1989 etchings entitled “The First Mystery,” “The Second Mystery,” etc., create different scenes of an orbital sun and horizon line, stable aspects in otherwise chaotic, mottled space. Is this a deluge, a nuclear blast, or the morning after the apocalypse pictured? These works get at the heart of Thompson’s mystery—how to apply a centuries-old technique and new scientific possibilities to an eternal subject: the substance of the world.

The Second Mystery

The Second Mystery, 1989, etching

Fifteen of the eighteen prints on view are back-and-white, forcefully conveying the frenetic energy of the compositions as well as the energy of the artist’s incisions. Rather than feeling hemmed in by the hectic lines and scratches, an elegant use of white space in the compositions allows the paper to stand forth like a peaceful absence of matter, especially in works like Mulbris, “Death and Orgasm” series (1991) whose upper third is unmarked except by a graceful curved indention in the paper. Almost unexpectedly, I found the exhibition of the deceased American artist’s late prints tucked into a small room off the main Greek and Roman art galleries, offering a modern counter-point to the permanent collection.

Mulibris, "Death and Orgasm" Series,

Mulbris, “Death and Orgasm” Series, 1991, etching

On view at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta through May 17.


Top or Bottom?

Here was my thought while driving yesterday: there are two kinds of creative people. Those who visualize the ideal and then try to create something that resembles their ideal as completely as possible, and those who take bits and pieces of reality as starting blocks and see what they can create from that.

Top Down People….

Those who visualize the ideal might create a reasoned-out guideline to how the work should be organized. They know what they want, but not necessarily how to create it. Theirs is a world of symmetry and order with a rational mind at work behind it trying to approximate the perfection they imagined. They can be dissatisfied when their creation isn’t perfect according to their pre-determined ideal.

Bottom Up People…

are realists, in a sense. They work from the bottom up, with pieces of reality whether it be an overheard sentence, the look in someone’s eye, or an old car part. They imagine the potential of that thing in connection with this other thing. Their world is forever in pieces that they are trying to put together, which can be chaotic but also full of endless possibilities.

That’s not to say people can’t behave either way at different times, but I definitely lean toward the latter. What do you think? Does the top down/ bottom up distinction make sense to you? Are you a top or a bottom?

Why We Create Art

That question has been running through my head the past day or so. You can google “why we create art” and get responses in varying degrees of inanity and less than helpful lists. Fundamentally though, creating art is not Darwinistic and it does not pay. Yet it feels much more vital than a hobby, which is what the hierarchy of life would reduce it to.

People create for many reasons, and often when discussing it they say they enjoy the process or they want to express themselves. But I think expression implies two parties. We create for other people to read or see or hear. Even while I say I write for myself because I enjoy it, there’s more. I write with the purpose of communicating. Even in personal journal entries, I explain situations as if I didn’t know what happened in my own life. Maybe that’s just me. To some degree, if I can finish my novel satisfactorily and no one ever reads it I will be proud of my efforts. Yet I want people to read it and I wrote with the implicit goal that if a person read it, he/she would understand the story I am telling.

So yes, we create for ourselves. Yet somehow the expression isn’t complete if there is no one on the other side to see it or hear it or read it and recognize it’s existence. It becomes “like dead letters sent to him who live, alas, away.” If a tree falls in a forest with no one there to hear it, it doesn’t matter if it makes a sound.