Tarnished Nature, Erasable Art


Written by Sandy Moore

This project was sponsored in part by an Ellies grant from Oolite Arts.

On Sept 16, artist Lydia Rubio held a performance /installation at The Lumberyard in Catskill. She stood by 5 large blackboard panels–2 round, 3 rectangular–which were painted on with permanent white paint and drawn on with erasable white chalk. Each panel was stenciled with a title which, in part, clarified the imagery–“Irreplaceable”, “Irreversible”, “Impermanent”, “Indescribable”, “Indelible”.  Rubio pointed out that the panels represent our local landscapes–the Hudson River seen from Olana and the Thomas Cole House, The Catskill Creek, the Hudson River bed. This is classical landscape imaged in perspective and rendered in negative (white-on-black)–trees, mountains, rivers, clouds. Gorgeous flora and fauna in these landscapes are pitted against various challenges including financial leviathans–large corporations, trucks on highways, trains and barges carrying oil and other pollutants. Members of the audience are invited to erase the chalk drawings on the panels, and to then to draw in what they would hope to see, such as a cleaner river, the return of the bald eagle, etc. Some painted features were exposed, by erasure, as indelible–e.g.  untrenchable PVC’s in the silt of the river–and as these horrors were revealed the audience would audibly sigh.

The artist noted, as an aside, that some of the boards pass from representational to abstract by the act of erasure; we are left to ponder after the performance, what that might mean. Erasure is not a new technique–Rauchenberg’s 1953 erasure of  a DeKooning drawing is still heralded as an enigma. But it’s different in this case. Chance figures into the meaning of this fundamentally changing artwork. Like Tibetan butter sculpture, this work is not about making a permanent (i.e. saleable) thing. But the artist does make the point that the panels will be eventually “fixed”. Then, these will be radically different artworks. The artist also noted, as an aside, that women artists are commonly erased …..