I’m in the early stages of a whole new body of artwork: digging around for ideas and information, testing materials and techniques, developing visual language for abstract thoughts. The big concept: folk and blues music as oral history.
It turns out there’s a weird historical detail, stumbled upon by songwriter Gillian Welch, that at least 3 major events in U.S. history happened on April 14: Lincoln was shot (1865), the Titanic hit an iceberg (1912), and the Black Sunday dust storm devastated the Midwest (1935).
Welch lumps them together in her song “Ruination Day.”
It was not December.
Was not in May.
Was the 14th of April.
That is ruination day.
She made the connection listening to other songs that mention the date:
Woody Guthrie’s “The Great Dust Storm“:
On the 14th day of April of 1935,
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky.
Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water”:
Year of nineteen hundred and twelve, April the fourteenth day
Great Titanic struck an iceberg, people had to run and pray.
The folk ballad “Booth Killed Lincoln“:
John Wilkes Booth came to Washington, an actor great was he,
He played at Ford’s Theater, and Lincoln went to see;
It was early in April, not many weeks ago,
The people of this fair city all gathered at the show.
Each song tells the story of a devastating event, woven into a memorable narrative through repetition, rhyme and simple phrases.
These four songs form the basis for my next body of artwork; a visual “song cycle” of sorts. I’m keeping many of the elements of my prior music translation systems (notes to color, rhythms to grids), and digging deeper into the repetition, nuance and story-telling inherent in these folks and blues songs.
I’m thinking about our current context for receiving and processing news – memes, tweets, clickbait, short sound-bites – all designed to be fast and attention-grabbing. I’m looking for historical cycles and present-day parallels of political divide (Lincoln), lack of regulation (Titanic), and poor environmental practices (Dust Bowl). I’m wondering about the role of big disasters in our national psyche. I’m leaning into music and art as essential elements of human experience.
April 14 may have just passed, but stay tuned for the debut exhibition of my “Ruination Day” artwork in April of 2019!