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To See the World

 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

 

William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence

written 1803 published 1863

 

 

The first four lines of William Blake’s poem present physically impossible paradoxes, suggesting the infinite can be witnessed in the finite, that our world  – the life within it, space and time – is both too small to observe and too large to comprehend. Either extreme demands a transcendence, the ability to see beyond what is visible in order to embrace faith in an existence that is unknowable and incomprehensible in its vastness, and acceptance that time within time is unending.

 

I can’t help but recognize that Marina DiMaio’s works From Caspar to James and Pentimenti – print series developed from her research of the historical and contemporary sublime, augmented by the resonant beauty of her aesthetic – bring us to exactly this cusp between the known and the unknowable, to an immensity of thought, questions and belief contained within a simple, twelve-inch-square copper plate. Her work is saturated with conceptions of the sublime, of faith and spirituality, of inner imagined landscapes and the unending stillness of the natural world, histories of artists grappling with the proposition of transcribing the infinite. Each mark, every layer, all states of what can be seen as one extended print lead us to a further matrix of thought and ever expanding references.

 

Upon this one copper plate, DiMaio has inscribed multiple references to four artists from across history and the contemporary, artists similarly striving to apprehend the sublime in varied connotations: Caspar David Friedrich’s iconic Monk by the Sea, the experience of Mark Rothko’s nebulous painted expanses, Wolfgang Laib’s installations with the unaltered beauty of pollen, milk and natural material, James Turrell’s presentation of light itself. The reference to each artist is, for DiMaio, a means of capturing and absorbing their questions of the sublime, their jousts with infinity. This is not an ersatz intellect of quotation, not a simple appropriation of their work in order to create her own. Rather, the expansive work of each artist – along with the concepts, histories and art histories they contain – becomes inscribed within DiMaio’s composite print.

 

There is almost an incongruous absurdity in rendering such grand ideas on the surface of a modest copper plate, of referencing large-scale paintings and installations within a small, traditional format. Yet DiMaio defies traditional printmaking by using a single plate to create 5 separate print editions plus 20 unique prints – between the two series are 25 distinct images. She applies a host of intaglio techniques, grounds and ink applications to create each state, then erases the plate to create space for the next image. Except the erasure is never complete, all ghosts remain, and even as vast scale is contained within a small format, each layer becomes a physical space burrowed into the skin of the copper plate. We as viewers proceed through one layer into the next, into the next – not expanding in two dimensions beyond the picture plane, but ever deeper into its space. Each physical layer is a unique landscape, a plane to go through.

 

We are not alone. Figures weave in and out of this space – Friedrich’s monk, an image of Laib kneeling in his installation, a woman turned into the space of a Turrell work. Each isolated in their own way, enveloped in contemplation, yet just as they may encounter each other here and there, the figures become known to us. They are sentinels amid the landscapes, fellow wanderers joining us through the layers. The presence of Rothko is not captured in a figure, but in the worlds of colour glowing within each print – adjacent fields of pigment that could reference bars of colour, could just as easily be horizons where sea meets sky, and are somehow understood as both.

 

I am at a loss to articulate how so many landscapes, so many worlds, can be present in one – or how each subsequent print holds the memory of all that came before. Except, perhaps, to understand that DiMaio’s process in this work engages time as a physical presence, a fourth dimension that allows for the coexistence of multiple spaces or realities in one expansive present. It is a way of understanding time and the repetitive nature of printmaking captured by Tiffany Bell, writing on Agnes Martin’s silkscreen series On a Clear Day (1973):

 

       Repetition – not within a single image, but throughout a complete body of work – became the point. … The effort and intensity          

       compressed into a single image, providing the viewer a sublime moment, now would unfold as a sequential experience with infinite              potential, as the viewer sees multiple renditions of a similar idea in time and space.[1]

 

Each print in DiMaio’s exhibition From Caspar to James can stand alone as a beautifully resolved landscape – glowing with enveloping colour, leading to vast horizons, the potential of the sublime and all related thoughts we may have. Yet because DiMaio compounds the images, pressing one into the next and into the one beyond that, we are placed within an infinitely expanding matrix of thought, image, space and time. Earth and heaven, infinity and eternity are all present.

Christine Sowiak

Calgary, April 2017

 

[1] Bell, Tiffany, “Happiness is the Goal,” in Agnes Martin edited by Frances Morris and Tiffany Bell (Tate Publishing, 2015) 29.