SIGNS OF HAZARD
2015, archival marker, oil pastel, highlighter and hazard tape on safety sign, 12x12 inches
"The medieval stripe was the cause of disorder and transgression. The modern and contemporary stripe was progressively transformed into a tool for setting things in order. But if it organizes a world and society, the stripe itself seems to remain unwilling to serve any organization too rigorous or too limited.”
In The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes Michel Pastoureau identifies dress as a mode of classification, used to categorize a person’s social and moral standing. Pastoureau describes medieval society in particular, where striped clothing signified outcasts or reprobates – those who disturbed the natural order such as heretics, clowns, jugglers, lepers, or prostitutes. A reason for this correlation: the striped pattern was seen as visually problematic. It entailed the combining of two opposing elements, and resulted in a surface decoration where the viewer was unable to differentiate figure from ground. This indicated a usurping of the order and structure of a hierarchical system. Stripes, thereby, came to function as a pejorative sign system.
My initial interest in stripe patterning centered on the seersucker motif. The seersucker jacket is an item often associated with male gentility, yet I find the associations to be more complex. Etymologically, the origin of the word “seersucker” stems from two Persian words: “sheer” and “shaker” meaning “milk” and “sugar.” Basic nourishment and sweet charisma? Dual roles in society are suggested: the seer/visionary and the sucker/fool. The role of providing essential sustenance contrasts with the giver of acumen or élan. Yet these are interwoven, shared, and exchanged vacillating conditions in human relationships, in constant flux. Similarly, stripes are moving targets. Michel Pastoureau observes that the stripe is a “rhythmic, dynamic, narrative surface that indicates action, the passing from one state to another.” It is this potential for variation that makes the striped surface pleasingly complex.
Continuing investigation into stripe patterns, I used cut pieces of gessoed black and yellow hazard tape to make drawings, fracturing the clarity of these bold cautionary stripes. During a winter spent in Portland, Oregon while looking to replenish my supply of hazard tape I stumbled upon a store dedicated to caution, Sanderson Safety Supply, where I purchased generic shipping placards (diamond compliance signs) designed to allow custom-made warnings to be inserted. These signs became a structure upon which to build drawings. Using paint, hazard tape, masking tape, gesso, pen, and marker, I worked to construct a quieter a sense of alarm by playfully embellishing the signs, at times subduing loud contrasts with close-valued stripes or placing saturated hues side by side so as to nullify or de-escalate visual urgency. These strategies fulfill a similar function: stripes and signage designed to indicate peril, threat, risk or danger no longer accomplish this visual or symbolic objective. A softening or dampening or has occurred. In subsequent paintings stripes build on stripes. Dashes break up the singular stripe, and narrative content is seen through the lens of rhythmic linear compositions. Stripes also delightfully obscure the differentiation between figure and ground, pattern and subject, creating spatial ambiguity, where elements are confused, intertwined, tangled … doubling back, dissolving into anonymity.