By Vicki Krohn Amorose
Tallmadge Doyle and I share a fascination with octopuses. The artist told me a story of the time she encountered a Giant Pacific Octopus at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, when the keeper allowed the octopus to touch and visit outside its tank. Doyle attempted to convey this awe-filled experience, describing her sense of connecting with the mysterious. She fell short of words and yet I understood. The work in her solo exhibit “High Tides Rising” (Augen Gallery, Portland, Oregon, Feb. 6-29, 2020) embodies this type of wordless communication. I peer through varying layers of perception, like strata of geological time, and discover rewards of the artist’s exploration.
The idea that art can arise from place, that visual art is entwined with the qualities of landscape and environment, can be plainly observed in indigenous art worldwide. Communing with the “spirit of place” points to a deep human connection with the sensorial experience of dwelling in one location. The contemporary mind has been expanded by technology that offers us many ways of seeing beyond our human perceptions, from electron microscopes to orbital imagery, and we mentally flit from location to location in time and space. Tallmadge Doyle finds orientation by committing to artist-in-residence time periods, immersions in distinct locations that help visual expressions to take shape. She states, “Going deep into the natural environment is when I feel the most creative and inspired.”
The artist began her investigations into biological patterns and long-term changes in geography at PLAYA Art Science Residency. She completed two residencies there in 2016 and 2017. Situated at 4000 feet elevation in south central Oregon, PLAYA is far from any sizable town or Internet connection. She experienced a calmness of mind that gave rise to “Amazon ll,” “Amazon lll,” and “Papilio X,” which were completed over the following three years.
The series titled “High Tides Rising” (32 in all) came out of the Kingsbrae International Artist Residency in New Brunswick, Canada, located on the Bay of Fundy at sea level. Here Doyle witnessed the highest tides in the world. She hiked and biked the 27 acres of the Kingsbrae Botanical Garden with its abundance of flora and bird life. She felt invigorated by the dramatic changes in the sky and light as storms rolled through, and yet she was filled with a future vision of the garden eventually drowning due to rising sea levels. The series of prints is filled with the pulsing motions of transformation; life reorganizes and continues always.
Doyle continued contemplating the nature of time and its impact on the landscape. The prints “Underwater Garden, Wyoming” and “Underwater Garden V, VII, X” were conceived while residing at Brush Creek Residency in south central Wyoming. She spent mornings snowshoeing on the 30,000- acre cattle ranch near Medicine Bow National Forest. “At night I would read John McPhee’s book, Rising from the Plains, about the geological history of Wyoming,” Tallmadge explains. “I was imagining what the land was like millions of years ago. This was freeing, not to be locked into a certain landscape or vision. I began to imagine the past, present and future together as contrasting layers.” Wyoming brought her inspiration a second time at Ucross Foundation, near the Big Horn mountains outside of Sheridan. Amid the barren and frosty landscape, she biked to the light-
filled art studio and adjacent printmaking studio. “Underwater Garden XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII” were produced as a direct result of this experience.
There are no human figures in Doyle’s work, but the human presence is relayed in the lines of cartography. The artist often includes the iconography of maps, discernible as particular layers in her masterful printmaking. Mapping is quite literally a way to understand where we are located in the world, and I believe this desire underlies Doyle’s explorations. The artist wishes to grasp her place in the all of it — past, present and a future of climate chaos.
Maps give promise that we can ascertain our place, removed from the reality of how we might physically inhabit a certain place at a certain time.
“High Tides Rising” asks about the possibility of pinning down where we are, truly, in the midst of a constantly shifting terrain. The artist enters wordless communication about a particular locale, and her reach extends, like the tentacles of the octopus, from her individual sensorial and temporal experience.