Amanda Wren Wagstaff

Houses in the Woods 9

Residency: April 9, 2012

Project Description

The weather has been cool. It rained a lot in the beginning. The last two weeks have been sunny and bright. Contending with the elements has been a big part of my experience. I’ve spent more time painting outside than ever before. I don’t have a car or bike, so I walk a lot: to painting spots, on the trails, for exercise, or to get a delicious breakfast at the Otis Café.

I’ve been living in the Kennon House, which is a 5-minute walk from the Sitka Center. If I had been living in one of the houses on the Sitka campus, I may not have started my “Houses in the Woods” series.

I walk back and forth between the Kennon House and my Sitka studio several times as day. After a week or so, I felt comfortable and settled. My walks to and from the studio were nothing special, but it was during one of these walks that I noticed the roof of my neighbor’s house. I was on top of the hill looking down on the house and the roof was a big, glowing square. In that light, it was reflecting a light, dull, purple color. It stood out so distinctly next to the dark vertical forms of the spruces and the bright new green of the undergrowth. And it brought such a strange shape to the composition of the forest. The sight of that roof really struck me. After that experience, I started noticing other manmade shapes in the woods, other rooftops and walls. The houses and buildings of the Cascade Head community try to blend into the forest. There are no unnatural paint colors or ornaments, just natural wood siding. But for all the effort to be inconspicuous, the houses were what stood out the most for me.

These manmade structures interrupt the visual chaos of the forest: a seemingly infinite variety of plant life bursting through the ground, reaching upward, competing for space and light, growing over and around each other. And then a blue rectangle, the distinct edges of a triangle, a peaked roof. These simple geometric structures are like rest stops for the eyes, a place where you can recover from the overwhelming patterns, colors, and abundance of the woods. Shelters.

 

There is poetry here. Rhythms and contradictions. Stops and starts. Bright and dull, light and dark, warm and cool. The compositions are all there. How can you interpret that? Humans are always trying to make sense of their surroundings, establish some control. Drawing is an example of this: arranging lines and tones on a surface, trying to distill the visual world into a 2-dimensional object, something you can hold. It’s just another way of analyzing and understanding.

In 200 years, these houses will have rotted or burned and been returned to the forest floor. This fecund forest will reclaim it all. Maybe tsunami, fire, or man will then claim the forest. Whatever happens, my forest won’t be your forest. I hope these drawings and paintings can show you what I saw.

 

Biography

My artist residency here at the Sitka Center started April 9, 2012. It has been an incredibly productive time for me, both personally and creatively. I have made more work in the past 5 weeks than I’ve made in the last year.