The Philosopher Walks
Anne Hayden Stevens
Archival prints with spray paint 2019
Five panels (L to R): Refuge, Waterfall, Mountains, Rockfall, Bridge
These pieces are archival prints built from painting fragments that have been touched with spray paint. They are based on a yearlong study of Chinese landscape painting. How things feel, versus how they appear, is a central concern of Chinese landscape painting, and has been for centuries. As I read and I studied I asked: How do these paintings work, both formally and emotionally? Who made them? What do the elements included in the paintings mean?
I have been able to answer most of my questions, but they led to more questions. Where are the women painters in this history? Where are the female scholars and philosophers? Does the art historical record even question the absence of women artists and thinkers in this tradition? As I studied, I inserted a character into the paintings that was absent from the story I was reading. She is a female philosopher who walks the mountains, thinking and breathing, sweating and being scared: being human. I know she was there then, so I added her now.
Typically the landscape and the horizon reinforce our sense of order. Gravity reigns. Trees and rocks and water all fall in a set of predictable lines, drawn to the core of the earth. Our bodies are also dictated by the gravitational pull.
Our minds, meanwhile, are unconstrained by gravity. We think in giant leaps and bounds, across time, incessantly observing, ruminating, dreaming. Our mind is free to wander anywhere.
In this work, the Philosopher walks as the world falls away around her. The mountains shear off the side of the path, tumbling against trees and rocks and water. Clouds of mist rear up and mask the mountains still intact in the distance. The world she feels is more infinite and intimate than the world she sees.