The Gallery at Macon Arts Alliance, a Knight Arts grantee, hosted a gallery talk on Tuesday, Sept. 25 by Carol Dodd Porter, about her many paintings featured in the gallery’s September exhibit “Slow Down, Step Back.”
Porter believes that an artist’s work should reflect the times in which the artist lives. For this reason, she uses text in her paintings, because, as she describes it, “we live in the information age.” For Porter, text feels as essential to the contemporary artist as any of the elements of art or principles of design.
All of Porter’s paintings in this exhibit are comprised of words, most often covering the front of the canvas as well as the sides, top and bottom. She paints every inch of the surface with quotes from great works of literature, songs that she loves, the Bible, or any source which speaks to her. According to Porter, she does this because she seeks truth. A truth hidden in the chaos of life, and in terms of her work, hidden in the chaos of her compositions.
“I was trying to find what I consider ‘universal truths,’” she explained to the small crowd gathered inside the gallery. Having read many great works of literature, from Shakespeare to the Christian Bible, she believes that sayings which are often repeated, are most likely universal truths. “Life if neither as good or as bad as we suppose it to be” was one example she gave.
“Well, when you see a saying repeated throughout literature you can just say ‘that is probably a true statement.’ ‘As a man thinketh, so is he’ — that’s in so many generations of great works.”
Porter often uses a single line, beginning in the top left corner and ending in the top right corner of her paintings. The line begins with a star and ends with a star, though after her intensive process of painting and repainting, they can sometimes get lost. The single line remains and forms the words and imagery contained in the work. That star in the top left of the painting signifies the birth of the individual. The star in the bottom right signifies the moment when the painting was created. The twists and turns of the line symbolize the twists and turns of life. Images of rocks signify tough times. Images of eyes symbolize moments when a truth was realized and accepted. The compositions are chaotic and confusing, but when the viewer steps back and concentrates, the words reveal themselves.
For Porter, the moment when the viewer is able to finally read the words is a metaphor for how she believes truths are revealed in life. One must step back from the chaos of daily existence and meditate or pray or just concentrate. But Porter’s goals are not just to reveal truths. As she explained, she began her work as an artist as a way to impart wisdom t0 her children. She wanted to instill wisdom in her four sons, but also hope and inspiration. Therefore, the quotes she uses are often meant to inspire the viewer. (Note: almost every painting she creates has four suns hidden within the imagery.)
One of her paintings is about several female authors who she feels paved the way for her to live a life of her choosing. Imagery and text work together to evoke the stories of writers like Virginia Wolfe and Kate Chopin, but the focus of the piece is on a central figure of an angel which is inspired by the story of Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple.”
As Porter explains it, Walker’s mother was a single mother of eight children living off $20 a week, but because she loved her daughter and believed in her so much, she found a way to buy Alice a typewriter. After Porter recounts the story, she asks the audience, “Can you imagine if someone loved you that much?” Then she challenges them by saying that while they may not have had that kind of support as a child, they can now offer that kind of support to someone else.
Porter seeks to make work about the times in which we live. Work that reflects the moment when it was created. She pays homage to great writers, great women, and to her own spirituality. She does this while seeking to tell universal truths, and with those truths, she hopes to impart wisdom and inspire us all, just as she has been inspired by those who came before her.
The Gallery at Macon Arts Alliance: 486 First St., Macon; 478-743-6940; www.maconartsalliance.org