My drawings and installations explore the relationship between the mapping of the land – with roads that create lines, intersections, and grids – and the mapping of experience using written language – through grammar and composition.
Structures imposed on the topography of the land act as a metaphor for the organization and divided nature of language, and thus for the territories of experience. In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram asks what might have been lost of our ability to communicate as a consequence of the proliferation of the written word, and how our understanding of the natural world has been forever changed as a result; the shift from right brained intuition to left brained literacy profoundly altered our relationships with one another and our surroundings. With the advent of literacy, communicating experience became limited by vocabulary and an understanding of language itself; a fundamental connection to the land and to one another was lost. I became interested in exploring the idea of loss in this context: that which is missing, but not necessarily known.
In the ongoing series “Walking Drawings,” I explore the nature of the spaces in between. Made while walking from one place to another, the only structure to the drawings is the movement of the pen from left to right on the page, a reference to western language. I draw without looking at the page, simply holding pen to paper and allowing line to document the movement of my body through space. Lines jump and meander, dots indicate moments of pause or shift.
New York Times Drawings
This series of drawings came from my profound interest in the anonymous nature of language. I am disturbed by the way that news media represented death and dying, particularly in the language of war. Headlines and articles make barely passing reference to “innocent civilians” and “dead soldiers,” with little or no reference to the actual lives that had been lived and that were lost. Painstakingly tracing each word, I pay quiet homage to the anonymous lost.
Sharyn O’Mara maps the blank spaces in between steps, moments and words.
Working within the diaristic sketchbook tradition, O’Mara creates her Landmarks and Walking Drawings outdoors while actually walking. Her gestural mark-making on small pieces of paper or in books reflects the rhythmic movements of her hand and body as she moves through space. The weight, density and pattern of the lines create a visible manifestation of time and energy expended. The drawings’ intimacy of scale reinforces this mind-body connection.
O’Mara’s Walking Drawings and Walking Books are akin to the conceptual works of British artists Richard Long and Hamish Fulton. Long’s photograph A Line Made By Walking (1967) documents the trace he made in the grass by walking back and forth. His private action becomes a work of art by the means he finds of sharing this ephemeral event, a “drawing” in the landscape made by his body, with the spectator. Fulton’s work may indicate an action in nature by using only text. As with O’Mara’s work, finding a visual analogue to express the meditative, temporal process of walking is essential. She began the series while visiting Scotland in 2003, and continues to create these drawings while traveling, as in the Walking Book and loose drawings made this summer during a residency in Estonia.
The Cut Drawings on Japanese waxed paper are versions of the Walking Drawings in which the artist carefully cuts away the negative space to reveal only the lines. These drawings’ web-like patterning is reminiscent of diagramming either the natural environment or one’s interior nervous system or mind. The concept of the line as diagramming or recording movement in time also finds corollaries in scientific seismographic measuring of the earth’s movement or the heart’s beat through electrocardiography.
Disturbed by the impersonal reporting of human loss, O’Mara traces key words in the journalistic accounts we read daily. The New York Times Drawings make note of Western language structure and the process of reading from left to right across the page. As in all of her drawings, O’Mara imbues the tenderest of lines with depth of meaning.
Born into an Air Force family, she moved around the world eighteen times while growing up. She works in installation art and glass as well as drawing. O’Mara is currently the head of the Glass Department at Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia.