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Art. Environement. Interview.

Teresa Cox St. Paul, MN
Interviewed by Sam Edsill | Web site

Artist Statement

Nature's constancy, strangeness, order, beauty and familiarity is restorative and inspiring. My painting is a passionate response to this variety and is fueled by a desire to convey the power and heightened awareness I experience in its midst. I see nature as wholly interconnected and that we as living beings are integral to this. I am distilling the familiar in nature and inventing shapes which evoke cycles and rhythms of personal and spiritual landscape. I am also exploring metaphor and the visual paradox of familiarity and strangeness as represented by form, color, structure and movement.

Black Hill

MC: You have said with your art you are "chasing your sense of...what role nature plays in our lives." Where has that chase led you, and what have you discovered?

Teresa Cox: Nature is the perfect construct—it is vast, beautiful and terrifying. I see the natural world as generous and perhaps my greatest mentor. Creatively it provides complexity, dramatized life cycles and a lense to view and think in metaphor and duality. My acuity and energy seem heightened when I am in the landscape and a certain sense of discovery often accompanies this. I've started to believe that many of us have a landscape imprint from early childhood that keeps us questing our entire lives—either to be in places like it again or maybe producing ideas which are rooted in some of the constants that nature shows us.

Paessaggio Misterioso

MC: Your most recent work presents some recognizable elements—the snaking path of a river, or the stretching branches of a tree—as well as forms, which appear entirely alien. Why not simply replicate the world as you see it with your eyes?

Teresa Cox: Many years ago I drew and painted more literally from photographs. Eventually, the predictability of outcome left me dragging and feeling more like a technician than an artist. I realized that for me to stay interested my work needed to hold surprise and my intention needed to include uncertainty about what the work could become.

When I work with kids we often talk about this—the pressure to be right and to “know” can start very young, so it takes some reassurance and experience for kids to know that to feel a bit off center is important when you're creating.

I am interested in the hook of what is familiar-like a beckoning path or leafless tree and how this can be a doorway—a sort of invitation to people. But the other part is the contrast of familiar shapes with invented and distilled or exaggerated forms. I like that a single work can hold multiple relationships and abstract the content from a single meaning or view.

Golden Town

MC: Could you a say bit about how you go about finding inspiration for your paintings?

Teresa Cox: My paintings often begin as an impulse. Sometimes this is a feeling for a color, shape or a line. Sometimes it is more about a sense of movement or rhythm. Music is a great catalyst. I like the structure of certain musical rhythms and finding these in nature— the color, shapes and sense of order from both come together into a new idea.

MC: Color is immensely prominant in your work. Is it thematic, or relative to your own moods as you paint?

Teresa Cox: Color is music, emotion and space. I find my choices of color to be pretty intuitive. Certain shapes will suggest the color they should be—it depends what other forms they are next to and what type of space I am making.

Red Afternoon

MC: What are the shapes that you look for, and how do you know them when you find them?

Teresa Cox: Walking-traveling, listening to music, in the hardware store, at the library, drawing-really anywhere. I try to pay attention-to stay awake to the potential around me-shapes can be on the ground or in the wind, concrete or abstract-implied or literal. Two of my favorite shapes have been distilled over many years from nature-one is a hard shell oblong seed pod I found on the Island of St. Kitts-this often takes the form of a mini-abacus or ladder type shape in my paintings. Another is a burr ball that I pulled off my dog after hiking-it has the simplest architecture with strong protective spikes. There are beautiful shapes everywhere-morphing them into something new and partnering them with other forms intrigues me.

MC: What does nature mean to you, and why do you feel it is so important?

Teresa Cox: Artistically there is also a directness and clarity here that reminds me to focus on the essential. The natural world helps me to relax—witnessing the death and renewal in the forest reminds me of lifecycles and how everything is in flux-nothing is static-this is helpful in developing ideas and relationships.

Being in nature feels like a refuge and a welcoming open space to just be. It is non-judgmental and gives so much in terms of resources, experience and beauty. What a gift! It can also be a dramatic and mysterious place to explore—it's variety never ceases to amaze me. It also has the potential to provides us with everything we need. I am in awe of this.

Night Seed

MC: Many of your paintings include man-made objects, like pots and buildings, often drawn disproportionally large or small. What do these objects represent, and why do you find it so intriguing to play with scale?

Teresa Cox: I like to use objects, which have a certain commonality to them—things that are understandable to most people and which have a certain human appeal. We have judgments around what is valuable and important and I like to use scale to emphasize or play with this notion. I am also interested in the painted space becoming dualistic; it may be an intellectual or spiritual space and not solely a human or implied physical space—or it may be both. I have an interest in straddling the abstract and the figurative and this reorientation of familiar manmade objects is a part of that too.

I am also interested in the tension between that which is experienced and that which is measured-our need to quantify to understand vs. the experienced or felt.

Night Map

MC: Do you feel our values are misplaced? Do we quantify or measure things too much?

Teresa Cox: It seems part of human nature to measure and quantify—I think of it as the first stage of understanding or being interested. Sometimes we stop at measuring though and often that is just the beginning of an experience. Art invites introspection and part of the pleasure is in returning to find and experience more.

MC: How has nature impacted your own life? Are there any particular recollections that led you to explore our relationship with the natural world?

Teresa Cox: Yes. when I was little, my family lived on the edge of a woods and creek. This wildness was very alluring to me as a child. It provided a place to explore, dream and adventure. I can still recall many of the sounds and smells of those woods—we used to build furniture and houses from moss and branches and pieces of the forest floor. I remember feeling at home there. Now I realize the role it played in shaping my curiosity and confidence. I was very lucky.

Forest Grid

MC: As many have said before, your recent work creates an otherworldly landscape, but it seems as though it is depicting different parts of a single place. If you could name that place, what would you call it?

Teresa Cox: I am interested in a fantastic landscape. I see my paintings as being generated by each other but distinctly different. It's compelling to create new elements or characters in the landscape and make them more dominant, so often nature is seen as a backdrop to us living our lives—almost as filler. I am interested in flipping this so that the human presence is secondary and the magnificence and drama of the natural form dominates.
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