What’s something you like that a lot of other people don’t?
I was asked this question in an interview recently. It took me a minute, but I landed on cutting the grass. There’s so much I like about it– the smell, the exercise, the heat, the music pouring into my ears from my headphones, the discoveries– a grasshopper or frog moving quickly out of the way, a weed/flower I’d never noticed before. But what I think I like most is the lines. Those glorious rows the lawnmower makes and the way they slowly start to take over an entire lawn. It is so satisfying.
Let’s talk lines.
I think I’ve liked lines, particularly making them, for as long as I can remember. I used to live within walking distance to the Tchefuncte River, and when life felt most beyond my control, I’d walk over to it and stare into the place where the water met the sky. In that space, the trees, usually dripping with Spanish moss, reached upward, but their reflections shone clear on the surface of the brown, still water. They were between two great and expansive mysteries. There was so much above and below them.
I wouldn’t have been able to tell you then why that sight was reassuring to me and why I started painting large abstracts with lines through the center shortly thereafter (even though most of my work was and still is representational), but I think now I can.
The line is a separation, a marker, a definite in the sea of infinite. Where the river touches the sky there is an explosion of finite grass and trees, leaves, and light. Above that and the sky goes on forever, beyond what we can know or see. Below, and the water holds its own depth and mystery. I have lived many of my days and many of my hours in the past or in the future and in all the things that hum around the here and now. I have wished for things never to come and pined for times long gone.
And I’ve learned how to spend more and more time in the present– that line between what has been and what will be. When I look at horizons, I see precision surrounded by mystery, and I feel safe.
What would Jesus do?
In the Gospel of John, when the rule-obsessed and duplicitous Pharisees are asking Jesus whether they should stone a woman (supposedly caught in an act requiring another person who is notably absent from the makeshift trial), instead of answering them right away, Jesus bends down and writes with his finger in the ground, the dirt, the earth. I have often wondered what he may have written, what kind of lines he drew with his hand, and if he just needed a second to connect to the here and now instead of all that surrounded it. I find this simple image of him one of the most interesting and compelling displays of his humanity in all of the gospel stories. I am fascinated by it and why the author chose to include it but not a description of what he wrote. The story ends without the condemnation the Pharisees are thirsty for. They can neither condemn the woman nor Jesus. Not one stone is cast. You are not above or beyond this woman, I think he somehow tells them by stooping down and making marks into the ground.
Timelines, horizon lines, the dash between our birth and death dates. The lines we draw to make words and the way they cut into the vastness of a piece of paper. Our signatures or names carved into a tree or the sand at the beach. We are here. We are now. We exist. And it still matters in all that vast mystery that surrounds it.
Below is a gallery of my abstract line paintings from over the years. They began in 2015. I’ll admit when I went through my archives to find them, I thought I’d have four or five. Turns out I’ve been working on this more often than I’d realized.
I’ve been making paintings about this for years now, and I don’t have any intention of stopping. I’m not switching careers into lawn care, and I won’t cut your grass (my yard gives me all the satisfaction I need) but I would love to chat with you about the lines and marks you make and see. I would love to know which ones inspire or intrigue you. I would love to draw a line between us.
Written by Denise Hopkins
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