I am fascinated by the relationship between the subconscious and the conscious mind. It seems infinitely possible to train the conscious mind to let go of a hang up, a habit, or some earlier formed conditioning or prejudice.
But what of the subconscious? Try as I might to change it, I am forever having dreams that involve frustrations. In my dream I will be at a bookstore about to buy a magazine when I realize that I have left my wallet in the car. I go out to the car but it is locked and I realize that I have left my keys in a jacket pocket. But where is my jacket? And so on, ad infinitum.
When I wake up I want to shake myself by the shoulders and say, “This is Dreamland, Sweetie! You don’t need magazines or wallets or keys or jackets. Just pick the damn fruit right off the tree!” But it rarely happens this way. Oh sure, there have been flying dreams and “I am in paradise; completely at home” dreams, but these are more the exception than the rule.
I wonder what would happen if I could train my subconscious to be a little less frustrated when I dream? Would it have a beneficent effect upon my waking life? Would I be more creative? More successful in my career, my studio life, and my relationships?
Or is the subconscious meant to be inaccessible? Does it work on a deep, hidden level similar to that of DNA? Is the subconscious the spiritual equivalent of DNA’s physical blueprint? If so, can we inherit the dreams of our ancestors in much the same way as we inherit their eyes, hands, and smells? What would those dreams tell us about the life lessons already learned by those who have lived before us?
Divining is a painting that I made in 1994-95, around the time that I graduated from UMass Amherst. Its dimensions are 44 inches by 55 inches, and it is painted with oil paint on canvas that I stretched over handmade spruce stretchers. This painting has been sold. Photographed by John Polak.
A sculptural installation involving welded steel boats carrying symbolic cargoes, and a welded steel arch bridge.
Around the end of the 20th Century, I hatched an idea to build a sculptural installation involving 33 metal boats, each filled with a symbolic cargo and arranged so as to converge on a passage through a steel arch bridge.
The idea was somewhat informed by numerology, coincidence, our collective anticipation of the new millennium, and a vague interest in the mystique and lore surrounding Freemasonry. I was nearing my 33rd birthday, 33 happened to be my favorite number at the time, and 33 is the highest degree in the Scottish Rite.
But the larger metaphor was simply one of passage. The opening in the bridge represented a rite of passage from one part of life to another, or from life to death and whatever lay beyond. It also represented an intersection between the realities of what was going on in the water under the bridge, vs. the realities that were being connected by the platform of the bridge.
I first showed the installation at the Berkshire Artisans Gallery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1999, under the title of Midnight Freight.Freight in this sense represented the “baggage” that we all carry with us from our childhood throughout our lives. And the midnight aspect hinted at the subconscious, sub-rosa nature of these things. The materials that filled the boats were things that I associated in some way with my childhood: sweetgum pods, old pennies, acorns, bony-fingered twigs from a cottonwood tree, half-burned candles, red Georgia clay, etc.
Later, I showed the installation again with significantly fewer boats, different cargo, and configured to speak to a different theme. Living With the River was a juried show that took place at the Canal Gallery in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 2001. Artists were asked to weigh in on the influence they felt by living in the vicinity of the mighty Connecticut River that cuts through our fertile Pioneer Valley.
Three Sisters is an expression symbolizing the corn, beans, and squash that are staples of various Native American groups, many of whom lived in this region in abundance before the appearance of European Settlers. In this installation, the boats carried dried corn kernels, dried beans, and squash seeds.
In this way, my piece spoke to the inescapable history that we shoulder in the course of our modern-day life with the river. Namely, that we must recognize and honor the other cultures that preceded us and—in their own ways—lived with the river.
Technical Details and Availability
While the diaspora of boats has mostly made its way out into the private collections of the world, the bridge itself remains in my private collection. The bridge is composed of brazed steel (meaning that brass—which has a lower melting point than steel—is used as the joining metal). It has rusted to a nice patina.
In the summer of 2010 I started to work on a large painting commissioned by the owner of Rao’s Café in Amherst, Massachusetts. (Which has since been rebranded as Share.) Several of my earlier paintings had already been on display at the café, so I knew that this new one needed to fit stylistically and thematically. I settled on the subject of a carnival at twilight, inspired by the traveling carnival that visits the Amherst Town Common every spring. The format is the largest stand-alone painting I’ve ever made: 5 feet by 8 feet (I’ve painted murals directly onto larger walls).
Never before had I so deliberately documented my process of making a painting, so I thought it would be an interesting side project to set up a video camera in my studio, film the process from start to finish, and put together a time-lapse movie showing how the painting developed. What you see here is about fourteen months’ worth of intermittent work (nights, weekends, and holidays) condensed into a two minute video. This is whittled down from tons of original footage. Highlights of the movie include a fair amount of non-painting “prep work” (a.k.a, “getting into character”), a significant composition change (around 00:53) in order to situate the painting on the Amherst Common, and the fact that I wear nutty outfits while I work. And notably, I showed my sartorial support of the Boston Bruins, who went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2011 for the first time since 1972. I’d like to think I helped with that!
Update: as of November 2016, this painting moved to Bueno y Sano in Northampton, Massachusetts. Check it out, when you’re in the mood for a great burrito.
A portrait of a New England farmhouse under a blanket of snow.
Snow in October is rare in Western Massachusetts. A foot of snow this early is unimaginable, but it is what we have received. Freshly-fallen snow is beautiful and peaceful, but it can also be destructive. Tree carnage is everywhere. And where there is tree carnage, there are downed power lines and power outages. A website reports that 2.3 million homes and businesses throughout New England are without power.
I have often wondered why we in the United States don’t bury our power lines underground. In addition to aesthetic concerns, elevated lines seem so vulnerable. Experience confirms this: every year some combination of tornado, hurricane, and frozen precipitation causes widespread power outages. My friend Jean-Pierre—who is from Switzerland—says that the Swiss bury their utilities, and that in his memory they rarely if ever had power outages. I assume that the reason we don’t follow this example is cost. But if you factor in the cost of lost productivity associated with repeated power outages, and the dangers of potential electrocution by downed power lines, undergrounding starts to seem more attractive. Further, if such a widespread outage had occurred during a brutally cold snap, hypothermia could have become an issue.
For now I will focus on the beautiful aspects of the snow. I will slow down and appreciate all of the things I take for granted that are made possible by electricity: freshly ground coffee beans, hot water to make coffee with, a hot meal, and a hot shower. The ability to do laundry, work on the computer, and charge my phone.
I took this photo in 2010, not far from where I live. It was night time, so I put the camera on a tripod, and left the shutter open for around fifteen seconds to capture enough light. It was snowing when I took the picture, but the flakes were moving quickly enough that they did not appear in the long exposure. Here’s to more snow, but maybe not until December.
A portrait of a house in Northfield, Massachusetts, under a blanket of freshly-fallen autumn leaves.
Classic Americana, New England style: an old white house in Northfield, Massachusetts, under a blanket of freshly-fallen autumn leaves. I love the sense of austerity imparted by the arched windows and the weathered shutters.
Two maple trees at Mt. Pollux in South Amherst, Massachusetts.
You would be hard-pressed to convince me that there is anything more gloriously beautiful than autumn in New England. Each of the seasons has its own particular beauty, but October—my favorite month—ushers in a perfect convergence of climate, emotion, and color.
The heat of summer tapers off and is replaced with a cooler ambient temperature. Gardeners lay their gardens to rest, and people and animals alike batten down the hatches in preparation for the winter to come. Dramatic, blustery clouds and azure skies set a pensive mood. Golden afternoon light illuminates resplendent, fiery colors that the region’s trees produce. All of this is draped over a stunningly-gorgeous landscape and an all too fleeting American Gothic architectural style. By mid-month, invigorating breezes will whip up the leaves that will have fallen. Crisp, sweet smells of composting leaves will waft about. And by the end of the month the show will be over.
One of the places that I most love to visit during this season is Mount Pollux, located in South Amherst, Massachusetts. Formerly an apple orchard, Mt. Pollux is a little knob just north of Mt. Norwottuck, the highest mountain in the Holyoke Range. It is a very romantic, dreamy, energetic place. I wouldn’t be surprised if it sits atop an intersection of some of the earth’s ley lines. Many weddings have taken place here. Doubtless many young romantics have wooed each other on its flanks. Many hands have been held, many picnics have been consumed, and many kites have been flown. I brought my Dad here when he visited many moons ago, and we ceremoniously remembered our departed loved one.
One of the unique features of Mt. Pollux is that from the top, on a clear day, you are treated to a nearly unobstructed, 360-degree view of the surrounding land, which includes the Connecticut River Valley (a.k.a. the Pioneer Valley) and mountains as far away as New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. You can’t see Connecticut to the south, because the majestic Holyoke Range stands in the way. And you can’t see Rhode Island because it’s just so darn small.
Another unique feature of Mt. Pollux is its centerpiece: the two maple trees at the top. I have been told that some students from nearby Hampshire College refer to the place simply as Two Trees, which makes perfect sense.
Calling it Mt. Pollux makes sense too, as the trees embody an energy of “two-ness.” Recursively underscoring this theme, there is also a Mt. Castor in the area, but it is harder to find.
In Roman mythology, Castor and Pollux were the Gemini (twin) brothers. As astronomy buffs will tell you, the constellation Gemini comprises the twin stars Castor and Pollux. (Incidentally, my aforementioned brother Trevor was born under the astrological sign of Gemini.)
One thing I like about these two trees is that they seem to tell a story. They are not classically “perfect” maple specimens. They are unusual and asymmetrical. They are a little bit messy, not unlike life itself. The tree on the left sports a protrusion that reaches out to cover a corresponding chunk that is missing from the tree on the right. Both of the trees lean away from each other, but they seem to be relating. Is the one on the left reaching out to help one on the right, which has been injured in an ancient lightning strike or ice storm? Or is it more of an antagonistic gesture, as might befit a bickering old couple? Is it presumptuous to anthropomorphize them thusly?
If you have a chance, visit Mt. Pollux and decide for yourself! In the meantime, please enjoy this photograph.
My website—tracemeek.com—has been online since February 7, 2001.
While reviewing and organizing some old digital files and accounts recently, I was both startled and overjoyed when I stumbled across a reminder that this website—tracemeek.com—had been online for over a decade. Since February 7, 2001, to be exact.
And then a twinge of sadness crept over me. Ten years seemed like an auspicious anniversary to have let slip by with such little fanfare. Where have I been? What have I been doing? How did I get this far? So I thought I would make amends by writing a little about this site’s history, and by recommitting to its future development. This also serves as the inaugural long-form essay in my second decade online, and coincides with the launch of a brand new website.
My formative years on the Web
Back in the late 1990s when I first went online, I was a recent college graduate and artist working in an art-related manufacturing industry. I saw the Web as an opportunity to promote my art work to a wider audience than I had previously known. Being a do-it-yourselfer, I set about learning how to build my own online art portfolio.
I quickly outgrew iTools (Apple’s WYSIWYG webpage creation tool at the time), yet the prospect of hand coding a site using a text editor (SimpleText) was still a little daunting. A coworker with friends in the web design industry told me that she had heard good things about Macromedia (now Adobe) Dreamweaver. So I bought the software and built my first real site by trial and error, reading everything I could about web design along the way, and loving every minute of it.
By today’s standards the code under the hood of my first site was disastrous, but I was online, Baby, and there was no looking back.
Rumblings of change
At some point along the way I began to see another opportunity emerge: a potential new career path. “If I can build a website for myself,” I thought, “I can build websites for other people, and make a better living doing something I enjoy.” The barriers to entry seemed relatively low: I wouldn’t need to go to the equivalent of law school or medical school in order to build a legitimate web design practice. I discovered websites like A List Apart (ALA) that published free (and priceless) articles that helped me to learn the art, the science, and the trade of web design. ALA was founded by Jeffrey Zeldman, a pioneer of publishing on the web and the preeminent champion of Web Standards.
In and of itself, this course of self study probably would have sufficed, but in order to gain more in-depth technical knowledge, build professional credibility, and academically affirm what I was already learning on my own, I entered and completed a Master CIW Designer professional certification program at STCC, worked an internship, scored a couple of freelance gigs, landed my first real design job, then the rest was history.
Consequently, at some point during the early aughts my site entered its adolescence (or was it extended childhood?) with an awkward multiple identity: fine art portfolio, aspiring mural painting business, and web design business, all lumped together under the label of Creative Services. My accountant assured me that it made sense on paper, but I struggled for several years with the breadth of the endeavor. While such diverse Creative Services may be an apt metaphor for my oeuvre—the spirit of my life’s work—it did not make for the most cogent business model, and ultimately proved to be unsustainable. So I contented myself with my role as an in-house web designer, which it turns out is not a bad place to be.
To blog or not to blog? That was the question.
Later I blogged in fits and starts (briefly in 2003, and again from 2007-2009), but ultimately scrapped those projects while I still had some water left in the proverbial well. Both my personal and professional life were in flux, so I choose a handful of priorities to receive the lion’s share of my attention. I needed to put writing on the back burner for a while, but I pledged to resume the practice when it fit more comfortably into my life. I wasn’t finding my public Voice then, and that was OK. It was the right battle, but at the wrong time.
Nor did I fully comprehended the scale of the Web—the fact that I wouldn’t be writing for just myself, friends, family, and business associates, but potentially for a worldwide audience. The responsibility of having such a global voice was intimidating. Would my small town musings seem petty on this big important world stage? How would I forge a connection? How would I keep trolls and stalkers at bay? How would I avoid being perceived as one? Already I’d had mixed success in attempting to befriend my heroes online. I had only experienced real-world rejection up to that point; would I be able to handle a whole new flood of potential rejection on a worldwide scale?
And then there were the technical considerations of blogging. At the time, I had not yet experienced the joys (and the heartaches) of wrangling with content management systems (CMSs), so I wasn’t quite ready to redevelop my site using one of these platforms. Needless to say, manually managing a growing body of content became laborious.
So I poured my energy into other creative pursuits. All the while I’ve been engaged in the Web and its people. But I’ve been listening, reading, commenting, and storing up energy more than I have been speaking up. It is possible that this may eventually change. Exposing our ideas to the judgment of others is a risk that we take living in this world. For all its ills, social media has given us a gift: the permission to express ourselves extemporaneously on the web.
Happy (social) medium?
Oh sure, I use the microblogging and third party sharing platforms—the Twitters, the Flickrs, the Facebooks, and what have you. These are hardly a substitute for one’s own personal/professional website, but with their built-in communities and their occasionally well-designed tools, they do enable one to develop a form of “web presence” without having to build a website from scratch.
On Twitter, I often feel like I’m hollering (or whispering) into the Abyss (à la the movie Garden State) rather than personally connecting. Still, it seems meaningful enough to be worthwhile. Like little mental calisthenics or musical scales, I can develop my voice without the more intense responsibility of gestating ideas into more fully-fledged essays. That’s not to say that there haven’t been golden moments on Twitter. I’ve been moved by certain tweets (1, 2, 3, 4). And there have been more than a few tweets that have helped me to solve a work problem or to better understand an issue relevant to my career, government, or society.
On Facebook it’s more personal. I put a lot more thought into the work that I share there, and the way I interact. On Facebook, people feel more familiar. But I still measure my words.
Long before I tiptoed into sharing via these relatively new sharing services, I contributed photos to the Mirror Project (1999-2005), a photographic community curated by the inimitable Heather Champ. And I lurked around the fringes of Fray—a magazine of true stories and original art edited by Derek Powazek. There, I interloped and read, but did not contribute; I dreamt of a day when I would be so bold as to comfortably and confidently express myself in this brave new medium. Little did I know that self-expression would rarely be comfortable.
But for all the wonders that these online communities have wrought, I have been longing for something more. A property of my own. A place to be. Preferably with a wraparound screened-in porch, crickets, and stars at night. Near a pond to skate on in the winter. Hopefully this will be it. Or an integral part of it.
And then there is mortality
One of the aspects of life that starts to hit home the longer you live is that more and more people you know and love die. Some leave by way of tragic accident, well before their rightful time. Others succumb to disease. Still others simply live to a ripe old age and follow the rules of DNA to their peaceful repose. As profound and sad as the loss of these significant individuals is, it is no more nor any less than an inevitable part of life—the life that we are all a part of and will ultimately manifest in our own way, in our own time.
So part of the impetus here may be to leave a bit of a legacy. If I can share something that teaches or enlightens someone (including myself) or brings a smile or a laugh or a tear, then I will have succeeded, and the building of this site will have been worth the effort. Otherwise, I’ll just have all of these ideas swimming around in my head—not doing anyone any good—until that great day of reckoning.
But to keep things in perspective, this website will be impermanent as well. At some point the delivery formats may change, the servers may crash, I will stop breathing and will consequently stop paying my web hosting bill, and this site will shut down. And that will be OK. Then again, it is possible that at some point there will be a sort of a massive free archiving system (Google?) that will prolong the inevitable erasure for a hundred or a thousand years. More likely, this will all go the way of Yahoo! Geocities and the eight-track tape. Sometimes, in spite of our noblest efforts, things stop working and we just have to let go.
But I am not ready to let go just yet
Bringing this full-circle, my intention with this website re-dedication is simple. Be myself. Welcome you. Hopefully entertain. Get some of these ideas out of my head and onto the digital paper. My inner idealistic 20-something still wants to save the world through his art, but a more seasoned me has begun to accept that more modest goals may illuminate more sustainable paths. And I’ve grown to feel that simplicity and happiness are noble goals in and of themselves. I will end this essay with one of my favorite quotes, which is a nice touchstone for any endeavor, but particularly for the creative efforts that I publish to this website:
I often pass this old oak tree on my way to and from work. During every season and under every kind of weather it stands, watching the days and nights go by. The field is on the forward slope of a little knoll, which makes a perfect amphitheater for witnessing the harmony of elements.
In 1995, fresh out of college, I wrote and published a chapbook called Little Deaths.
I approached this project as both a writing exercise and as serial sculpture: After I wrote the story and the haiku poems, I hand lettered, illustrated, printed, assembled, and bound all fifty copies in the edition (plus a few artist’s proofs). I did not have a computer at the time, so there was never a digital master. This production was as analog as it could be. The entire series was handmade using photocopies, blueprints, hand-carved rubber stamps, ink, and glue.
For the front cover (shown above), I used a highly-textured purple paper, which I glued to three chipboard supports (front and back covers; spine). I printed the title, by-line, and “logo” with rubber stamps that I carved by hand from rubber erasers.
I developed this pattern of onions by stamping repeatedly with the aforementioned rubber stamp.
More front papers
Can you tell that I like onions? The left page was semi-translucent vellum, hinting at an onion skin; the right was an actual blueprint, which provides a nice velvety texture and some wonderful, accidental color bleed.
Another blueprint featuring an enlargement of the onion pattern.
This little chapbook written and hand-bound in an edition of 50 (plus a few artist’s proofs) by Trace Meek […] U.S.A 1995. Thanks to Benjamin Ostiguy, who took the photos on pages 26 & 30. For all who would listen…
The story begins with a walk.
Now and again Annelise would go out on walks and would collect mementos of her various visits. A pebble here, an interesting stick there. Occasionally a pine cone or a sweetgum pod. A piece of mossy bark, a small shard of brick, a snail shell. A palm full of strange-color dirt from a significant location, the dried shell of a bumblebee. An old shoe heel, a
butterfly wing. Quite a smattering of these little treasures had begun to collect here and there in the nooks and crannies about her apartment. Each one would forever evoke in her a little pocket of memory, a reminder of a particular place, a particular time, and a particular state of mind. On this particular day, Annelise walked in a direction that she had never taken before. Guided only by intuition and a desire to be outdoors, she proceeded without a fixed destination. Out from the bustle of the town, through the quiet neighborhoods behind the college, over the abandoned trestle, out along the paths that lead through woodlands and meadows, left muddy by an early thaw. Out along
a subtle ridge to a cornfield and an apple orchard, to a view of those familiar mountains in the distance. The weather was unseasonably warm, but a roaring wind blew thick, moist air in over the mountains. High above, the close-knit trees clacked their leafless branches together as though they were deer locking antlers.
As Annelise gazed out upon those cool grey mountains and the slightly lighter-grey sky above, she wondered to herself, “How could I possibly express this moment and the euphoria that it brings, without positively living it for someone?” She entertained the notion of bringing back sweetgum pods by the bagful and handing them out to people on the street, then had a little laugh to herself. “Everyone will find their own little memory pods,” she mused, “their own reminders of a particular place, a particular time, and a particular state of mind.” For ages Annelise would continue to try to express the inexplicable, such as she had experienced on that winter’s day, and
on so many occasions before and since. Now and again she would go out on walks and would collect little soulful impressions, little memories, little nuggets of folk wisdom which would swim around her and emerge into five- and seven-syllable phrases. Annelise would stash these phrases in the nooks and crannies about her heart, live with them, and savor them. To her surprise, they would eventually assemble themselves into haiku poems, some of which are shared with you here…
The good goes away,
the bad follows right behind,
then they both come back.
Expressing our needs,
look at what our hands have done—
this is where we live.
peel back through clear layered skins,
get to the essence.
Islands in the Sun
thinking we could be as one:
closeness in distance.
When in a painting
you see a beckoning road,
then down it you go!
Send a friend a gift—
when it arrives at the door
you get love supreme.
pays attention to within—
calm before a quake.
Fate interrupts us—
little deaths we live each day
as we approach one.
passed over by suns and moons,
return to damp earth.
In the wild of life
relationships come undone
and new ones are formed.
More end papers
I sold a few copies of this chapbook on consignment through a cool but now defunct bookstore (whose name I forget) in Downtown Amherst, gave many copies away to friends, family, and muses, and kept none for myself. Thanks to an old friend, a copy made its way back to me nearly two decades after I published it, so that I could scan it and reproduce it here. Enjoy.