Our art editor Mark Benton recently had this exchange with Adelaide Tyrol, featured artist for Issue #35. Here’s what she had to say about the influence of travel on her art, artists that inspire her, and the variety of mediums and painting techniques she uses in her practice.
Tell me about your journey through this series.
These pieces reflect ideas I have and questions I am working to answer after a recent archeological study trip in Oman. This work references viewing the Middle East through Western eyes: my entire New England upbringing, my Euro-centric education—my feelings about religion, gender, freedom—all these things were put into question as I travelled through Oman. This work is an effort to synchronize what I knew—or thought I knew—about the Middle East with what I was actually seeing and experiencing in Oman. I felt like I was reaching behind the television set, turning the vertical hold dial, to line up and reconstruct an image of this part of the world in an epistemological way.
You have said that: “The multiple layer approach of laying a transparent scanned image over a traditionally executed oil painting helped me create the feeling that the viewer is looking through a ‘veil’. We see life through a veil of culture, and because of this, truth eludes us.” How did you come across the concept of using film overlays as the layers of perceived facades in how we look at the world?
A few years ago I was given a roll of synthetic paper called YUPO to fool around with. The paper is 100% polypropylene. It is waterproof, stain resistant, slippery, and extremely durable. I started drawing on it with ground Sumi ink and fell in love with the way the materials reacted with each other. YUPO comes in both opaque and translucent. I began working with the translucent type, layering one drawing over another, and realized I could use this layering effect to achieve another dimension in my drawings, and to reference the idea of viewing the world through a veil. From that interest I then moved on to using clear overlays and varying mediums. Because the ink sits atop the paper and is not absorbed, it is readily removed with a wet cloth or eraser, which is another aspect of the material that is appealing.
I wonder how long it would take for someone to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture like the Middle East before that overlay faded, until they could see the truth…or maybe foreigners never truly see the truth.
“Truth” is elusive and, ontologically, reality is defined for each of us by our past experiences, our gender, and our place in the world. What is real to me is different than what is real to you. This is exaggerated when we compare and try to understand other cultures. When I visited the Middle East I was not trying to remove the “veil,” I was trying to become aware of it and explore a synthesis of knowledge…a consilience as a call to move towards a global interdisciplinary synthesis of knowledge. I was very interested in how West sees East, and I used two images—one superimposed over the other—to convey the idea of two simultaneous realities…synthesizing two realities into one.
I believe there is a basic human instinct to codify and to try and give rational form to what we see as chaotic and confusing.
Oman was confusing to me, and there was so much I didn’t understand. These paintings are an effort to try and understand what I was seeing. For me expressing this through a visual lexicon is pleasurably ambiguous and satisfying.
You are primarily a naturalist painter, but your conceptual approach to series like this one is full of depth and insight, as well as having a naturalist’s observation. I would be curious to know of your earlier artistic influences.
Much of my artistic practice is influenced by two things. For the past 30 years I have concurrently worked as a large format scenic backdrop painter in NYC and as a natural history illustrator here in Vermont. The large format commercial work is painted at breakneck speeds for breakneck deadlines. The canvas—typically 12’ x 40’—is stapled to the floor and then gessoed using a janitor’s push broom. We tape our brushes to long bamboo poles and paint standing up. All is painted with fast-drying acrylic paint and we splash, splatter, pool, and drag paint to achieve our effects. It is speed painting at its best. Everything needs to happen fast, and there is very little time for doubt or for changes. Mistakes are manipulated into something that works. It is thrilling to paint this way.
The natural history illustration work, on the other hand, is tiny, exacting, and quiet—sitting at a drawing table and using fine watercolors and small sable brushes and working hard to make sure the specimen is drawn correctly. This work shoehorns me directly into the scientific world. My clients are natural historians, science writers, entomologists, and botanists. My studio mates are stuffed birds, pinned insects, and field guides. Observing and studying the natural world has been a life-long interest and a great source of happiness for me.
These two practices have influenced how and what I paint, and they form the nuts and bolts of my fine art practice.
In terms of what artists I am influenced by: again and again I am drawn to the work of the 19th century luminist painter George Inness. In Inness’ work the gestural act of painting itself has significance and power. I see Inness’ work as a dynamic correlation between the intense physical engagement with the paint and his intense spiritual engagement with nature.
I have also been influenced by the work of the contemporary American painter Vincent Desiderio—in particular the way he organizes his work as multiples—triptychs and polyptychs—to create a narrative. The drawings of Barry Moser—my mentor—have had an enormous influence on my work as well. To me, his drawings are the epitome of grace and power, light and dark, ambiguity and specificity…just a beautiful balance—delicate and fierce at the same time.
It all makes sense now. I too have had some experience going back and forth from fast large-scale to tedious small-scale. It usually makes for versatile personal work. What are your plans for the future? A new series, perhaps?
Right now I am organizing a show on endangered species that—at this point—includes the work of nine other artists. I am working with Linda Mirabile, an environmentally-focused graphic designer from Montpelier, to compile a show and catalog that will travel and grow over the next few years in order to raise awareness AND funds to aid in conservation efforts. All profits will go towards conservation.
There is a lot of interest on all fronts—artist involvement, fiscal support from like-minded organizations and venues throughout New England that are looking to launch a show like this for their communities. Unfortunately, as you know, the list of species that are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is lengthy and growing…but there are also species that have dropped off the list. We see this as an enormous opportunity for education, programming, discussion, and artistic expression. The first exhibition opens at the beginning of April at the Central Vermont Medical Center Art Gallery.