Painter and bookmaker Ian Boyden’s work is influenced by the physical landscape of the Pacific Northwest, where he lives, and the artistic culture of Asia, whose practices and traditions he has studied for much of his life. Growing up on the Oregon coast, Boyden learned calligraphy before formally studying Chinese language and art on the East Coast and in China. At his studio in Walla Walla, Washington, he makes books and creates paintings with pigments he hand-grinds and mixes from unconventional sources. The ten pieces in this issue are drawn from several different series, but each is an example of Boyden’s close attention to the connection between materiality and meaning; he uses such materials as cuttlefish ink and freshwater pearl to elaborate both the physical and metaphysical qualities of certain archetypal figures, including feathers, trees, and circles.
For instance, “Moonlight Shatters in the Tree’s Shadow” (p. 684) and “Breath Penetrated by Stars” (back cover), made in part with ink derived from burned heart pine, seek to make manifest the windy landscape of the Columbia Plateau. These paintings, from the “Meditations on the Breath of Trees” series, explore what former Portland Art Museum curator Terry Toedtemeier terms “the agency of wind as but one of many forces that drive the unifying cycles of nature.” Boyden’s work “derives its power and sets its course,” Toedtemeier continues, from the “confluence of two fundamental kinds of artistic perception: one, of beauty visible everywhere around us; the other, of beauty envisioned in the world of thoughts and musings, knowledge and questions.”
“Evergreen Vineyards: Stones Projected by the Bolts” (p. 683) and “Field of the Sky” (p. 682), though from different series, employ a similar approach. In “Evergreen,” Boyden uses carbon from burned grapevines to investigate the idea of terroir, the unique characteristics of geology and climate that define eastern Washington wines and wine country landscape; in “Field,” pigments ground from pieces of the Campo del Cielo meteorite—which fell in Argentina about 4,400 years ago—give him a way of imbuing the composition with the various stories and myths handed down about the event. “In a sense, I am translating the voice of the material into my own vernacular,” the painter says. “Or, perhaps, it is using me as a vehicle for its own telling of things.”
That idea of translating between the abstract and the concrete, the elemental and the spiritual, is a central concern in several paintings Boyden created in collaboration with graphic artist and fellow bookmaker Timothy C. Ely. These images—“Squaring the Circle, No. 11” (cover) and “Recapitulations of Emptiness, No. 2” (p. 678) among them—use calligraphic and Zen Buddhist painting techniques: for instance, the drawing of ensōs, a Japanese symbol usually done with a single brush stroke, is said to reveal the mental state of its maker and also to represent the universe, the absolute, the void. “Alchemical Quill, No. 9” (p. 680) and “Alchemical Quill, No. 13” (p. 681) combine a recurring motif in Boyden’s work—the disembodied feather, an early writing instrument—with a synthetic written “language” of Ely’s devising, what Boyden says on his website might be “the language of the pen itself.”
Ian Boyden received a BA in art history and East Asian studies from Wesleyan University in 1995 and an MA in art history from Yale University in 1998—the same year he started Crab Quill Press, through which he produces handmade books and broadsides. He was director of the Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College in Walla Walla from 1998 to 2007 but since then has been a self-employed artist. His paintings have been shown widely in the United States and Asia: at recent solo exhibitions at the Augen Gallery in Portland and Davidson Galleries in Seattle, and in group exhibitions at the Portland Art Museum and the Seoul Museum of Art, among many others. His handmade books are in numerous corporate and public collections, including the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution; the New York Public Library; and Beijing University.
All images copyright © 2010 by Ian Boyden