Are we trespassing? Jacqueline Bishop thinks we are, but not in the usual sense of the word. A well-traveled, widely exhibited artist who teaches an Art and Ecology course at Loyola, Bishop has something subtler yet more fundamental in mind -- a sense that, in our race to remake the world in our own techno image, we have become ever more estranged from our origins in nature, and so, in some sense, from ourselves. Because nature is no longer our home but a 'resource' to be exploited, we have, in effect, become transgressors in Eden, destroying innocence and knowledge alike.
Or so her art works and their collective title, Trespass, seem to imply. But don't expect to be spoon fed or hit over the head; the imagery on the walls may pack a punch, but it is dreamy, enigmatic and surreal, and fraught with ambiguity. Rather than telling us what to think, Bishop may simply be trying to get us to think. In spite of their miniaturist scale and subtle aura, these pieces often raise big questions while taking us to places where we have never been, and might never have imagined.
In the gallery's front room are numerous paintings and mixed-media pieces. A series of small, framed assemblages sets the tone. Human Connection is a drawing of a bird on paper collaged from scraps of newsprint from India and Brazil, two countries that Bishop says profoundly influenced her work. Here the ink of the drawing overlays the newsprint to create a kind of texture, a skein of words in which the image is enveloped. A longtime birder and ecologist, she could surely tell us what kind of bird this is, but that may not be the point. Words express ideas, and while words and birds both migrate, only ideas can enslave or liberate.
In a much larger painting, Collective Imagination, a fragile maze of vines appears suspended against a pale blue sky. A closer look reveals an array of beetles, birds' eggs, nests, moths and tiny human heads suspended in the mossy tendrils. The heads are dusky and could pass for Indians, either Asian or South American. On the face of it, this suggests the interconnectedness of life, but at another level it alludes to the imagination as a function of nature, what British author Robert Graves regarded as poetry's roots in the natural world of ancient forests and timeless seas. Nearby, the title work, Trespass, is a monumental 5-by-8-foot panel of artificial birds, baby shoes and bird nests in a coagulated black-on-black morass. Within the dark melange are tiny, meticulously painted leaves, mushrooms and wildflowers, colorful new life amid the blackened bodies of birds that Bishop says represent the charred victims of the fires set by Brazilian cattle ranchers in their quest to transform lush rainforests into vast cow pastures.
A series of small orchid paintings returns us to a micro scale, and while based on actual orchids, they depict more than flowers. Temporal, a realistic view of a crimson orchid against a field of silky green leaves, looks strikingly sexual, as orchids often do. But Speciosa, a bulbous red bloom, up close resembles a human heart. How realistic is that? Very, or not at all, depending on what flowers mean to you. For Bishop they are metaphors and oracles. In Organic Memory, a crimson orchid hangs in a smoky golden sky, the red color bleeding from its petals as it becomes a mandala for the cycle of life and death in the rainforests.
The rear gallery houses Losing Ground: Imaginary Landscapes, a series of painted and modified baby shoes. For years Bishop has collected discarded baby shoes found in her travels, and dealt with them as tiny sculptural canvasses painted with the tropical flora and fauna that diminish every year as development reshapes the face of the planet. Besides being gorgeously executed, these tiny shoes pack poignant symbolism, evoking a sensation of lost innocence as the ground of wild nature is literally swept from under the feet of future generations. Bishop sees the wild world with the eyes of a poet and her work eloquently recreates the wonder and mystery she finds there, along with the elegiac sense of loss that must necessarily attend its passing.
- Jacqueline Bishop's Organic Memory, a crimson orchid in a smoky golden sky, symbolizes the cycle of life and death in the endangered tropical rainforests.