Christine Weir: Rivers, Lines & Lights

Added on by Drunk Old Ladies.

"Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future."

— Hermann Hesse

Christine Weir depicts rivers soaring through space, their crenellated contours in sharp contrast with the luminescent orbs that hover behind them. She charts lines of human construction--from the rectilinear progression of airport landing strips to the frightening geometry of nuclear power plants--as they cut into our planet's surface. She also portrays the glowing lights that illuminate our cities, scattered like diamonds across the velvet darkness of the night.

Aware that she was an artist since early childhood, Weir trained in both studio practices and art history. She began her career by working in auction houses where her research on hundreds of historically significant artworks underscored their physicality. When she left the auction business and re-ignited her passion for making art, she returned to the medium that had dominated both her childhood art making and her college classes: drawing with a graphite pencil on the white surface of paper. (It was not until sometime later that she turned from paper to claybord, that is, birch wood panels with smooth kaolin clay drawing surfaces.) Inspired by how the earth appears from airplane windows, she decided to make such panoramic views her subjects. Today, she peruses the satellite imagery of Google Maps for visual sources. She has produced several distinct but related series of increasingly abstract drawings.

NASA's Defense Meteorological Satellite Program has photographed our entire planet in order to map urbanization. Weir uses such photos to portray city lights. She draws tiny circles of light strewn across the darkened land, each orb carefully surrounded by silvery haloes. Seen from above, the glowing spheres resemble pearls scattered over inky fields. Weir deploys such images conceptually, exploring the ways our electrical devices reflect the geography of our existence.

Another series is more overtly concerned with environmental issues.  The artist examines the way human presence marks the planet's surface. Her drawings of airports and power plants function as "rifts" on the reductive geometry of Early Modernism. (There are echoes of Vassily Kandinsky, Frantisek Kupka, and Kazimir Malevich in some of her compositions.) But--as with all good art--these drawings are rich in their multivalent allusions, referring to ecological concerns as well as aesthetic ones.

One might imagine that aerial views of the planet's surface must be based on modern technology. Nineteenth French photographer Nadar took the first aerial photograph from his immense hot air balloon; Google Maps imagery was developed out of distance mapping technology developed for twentieth century war machines. But topographical drawing of riverbeds as seen from above goes back to the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci created two astonishing renderings of riverbeds. His 1473 drawing of the drainage basin of the Arno, the river that runs through Pisa, is a remarkable precedent for Weir's recent oeuvre.

Like the Italian master, Weir observes the undulating delineation of land and water with an almost scientific precision. Then she carefully arranges the river's serpentine curves across the surface of her composition, juxtaposing the geological variations against the austere geometry of a circle (or circles) of white light. Sometimes the riverbeds seem to erupt like bursts of molten lava. At other times, they drift like thin ribbons against a dark sky. Still others are grounded and solid, like sections of a dense landscape.

For this viewer, the riverbed series evokes visions of outer space. The glowing circles evoke the generated light of suns or the reflected light of planets. And the rivers recall the newly discovered streams of hydrogen that swirl through outer space and provide the gasses which spiral galaxies like the Milky Way employ to create stars.

Weir's emotional titles for the river series underscore the expressive potential of even such objectively observed phenomena.  Titles such as The Painful Eagerness of Unfed Hope (Despair), Having Had and Lost, What I Now Know, and The Unraveling remind viewers of the profound poetic potential of images, however fastidiously accurate and observational they may be.

All of Weir's drawings share one important quality: all must be viewed in person. Photography flattens out the carefully limned surfaces of her work. The various textures and thicknesses of the drawn lines are leveled. The sometimes-glossy appearance of the graphite is made matte. In short, the adamant physicality of Weir's drawings is not visible in reproduction. Digital copies lack the poetic yet tangible impact of these graphite drawings of eccentric riverine currents caught in the blaze of stars.

Betty Ann Brown
June 2016