|Cause & Effect
Teresa Cox St. Paul, MN
Interviewed by Sam Edsill | Web
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.