Artist Ben Joyce Re-Maps Spokane


“Spokane 20” by Ben Joyce.

If you love the outdoors that you read a lot of maps. Local artist Ben Joyce has been painting map-inspired landscapes of our area, and other destinations, and has a show this weekend. Terry Lawhead has written a preview of the show:

Thoughts on artwork by Ben Joyce, showing at Barrister Winery Oct 3 5-9 p.m.

I remember watching the old video “Powers of 10” 40 years ago and thinking that the ability to shift between perspectives was the coolest thing in the world. I had abstractedly reflected on the stars of deep space while living in country darkness for a few years, but the opening up of quantum space was utterly new and exciting. Those old crude graphics of cosmic or molecular perspective provided hours of pleasure contemplating the mysteries.

Then came the years—and there have been many of them–of deliberately dwelling in one place and, as Wendell Berry writes, growing down. Now the pendulum of my life appears to drop straight through the local graveyard and beneath it, and with that sensibility comes an acute earned awareness of the landscapes of where I live. I have lost some of the interest in far flung galaxies and intra molecular expanses and been drawn to the details of the place I love and live within. Some of those details are informed by trips to the dentist with my children, floating down a river, all the benign or not so benign mundane or dramatic moments of my life in one place.

I have also always enjoyed a map. The image of our places have been commoditized and literalized in maps and computer generated aerials, ever more so with google maps. But there are conventional maps on walls in my home that serve as visual journals of places I have been. I have copies of centuries’ old maps of where I live. Life is lived mostly at eye level but we pick up an aerial view from plane flights, dreams and pondering maps. A map is not the literal country but it is a symbolic representation of a place and of a life lived and it is full—call it projection or simply filling in the void of life with unsolicited images from the unconscious, but maps of personal places are loaded with life. Perhaps more so than a carefully constructed painted landscape. We are saturated with commercial images, the toxic overload of postcard realities. What symbolic image other than a map communicates best back to us the message, I live right here. It is a literal image filled in with magical thoughts. I generally prefer leaving manufactured images or more significance to the creator behind and going back outside into my world.

Art by Ben Joyce takes me into my world I want to remember and see.


Wrigley, Chicago

Other ideas related to his artwork:

• Our minds today are toxic with pathological images of a world on the brink of annihilation. Yet there is evidence everywhere that there can be a resurrection of a recognition of something else. We may just call it an enduring love for the material world, however bewildering it may seem at how we express that love. How does material become lovable again? Is there a visualization, a 10-step program, a science class or religion class or some emerging therapy to help us along? Maybe part of the answer is re-discovering where the material world was at some time previous physically inscribed in each of us and how that feels now.

• Spaces start empty. Walls grow with imagination. Distances that we can almost touch come up close. We fill in the spaces. Attachment theory says a child unconsciously creates a mental map and draws conclusions about his or her existence, belonging and worth from the accumulated reactions and feedback resulting from efforts at connections in relationships. This happens within months of birth. Perspective, the way we see, is a place to stand and a place to receive and a place to go into from.

• To know the spirit of a place is to realize that you are a part of a part and that the whole is made of parts each of which is whole. You start with the part you are whole in. The ceremonial seat where we sit whole is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap.

• All philosophy is homesickness. If events pull us far from ourselves and if we cannot see our face in the mirror because we have become the mirror and we cannot recall the great depths all about us because we constantly move quickly and anxiously on what seems to be thin ice what can we do to get the secrets of secrets inside oneself again? Sometimes we hurry forward hunched over and sometimes there are winds of homecoming at our backs.

• “You know, I think if people stay somewhere long enough—even white people—the spirits will begin to speak to them. It’s the power of the spirits coming up from the land. The spirits and the old powers aren’t lost, they just need people to be around long enough and the spirits will begin to influence them.” Crow elder, Bozeman, Montana, as reported by poet Gary Snyder.

• The love of landscape is the affective bond between people and place. Topophilia. It may be at the least unproductive and even possibly disrespectful to dissect this emotion too much. There may be no real boundaries between thought and physical activity. Why do some memories float through our minds like leaves upon water? Modern life forces us to maintain connections while we forcefully pull away from them. Yet, some sentiments of experiences in certain places flare up like forgotten fires and we stop in awe of them. They are beautiful. It is an archaic aesthetics to be stopped in one’s tracks in recognition of beauty. Beauty is an epistemological necessity, it grounds the particulars of the world. Without a sense of beauty the infinite variety of life is just chaos, it is a world apart from our own lives and it has no intrinsic value.

• Living places that serve the needs of people have distinct boundaries but they are permeable. A symbolic representation of a dynamic successful habitation has shifting, discontinuous lines, called fractals in mathematical terms. The geometry of human activities determine the positions of the fractals and the composition of them. Over time, these areas become memories as they are traveled through, worked within, played upon. They are eminently recognizable even if apparently passing by incognito, masked or under the guise of art or magic or the Byzantine algorithms of urban planners.

• Innovation is purposeful fantasy. We are always problem solving, particularly when we play, when we unexpectedly fit together the puzzle pieces to gain a new insight. Sometimes the importance is readily understood in a blink and sometimes it takes years to realize what you are looking at.

• It is a fundamental mystery that our remembrance of a place and how it plays out in our lives may be more powerful than the original witness of the presence of that place.

• We are predisposed to divide the whole of a landscape into objects of certain sizes and limits. Cities. Rivers. Fields and forests. The sometimes discordant constructs of divisions and compositions of the land are made by the rational mind yet suddenly an emotional recollection perceives the whole. It comes from a silence. It is a gift, prayed back to the one who prays. Accept without disturbing the silence from which it came.

• Reminiscence can be composed of authentic experiences if there is a genuine geography of childhood. There are interpenetrating bodies in semi simultaneous spaces of the mind just as there are in ecosystems and landscapes. It is life touching our senses and reaching our heart and attracting us back into an intimacy and ultimate inspiration. Is there a value to inspiration commensurate to a place on earth? Can the wildness of places remembered be measured if they are secret and anonymous to everybody else, known only to you?

• We who are older must remind the young that the purpose of life is to live it. The eventual reward of a long full lifetime is that it builds character and character generates encounters with memoria, the essential life review of our time. Many forces shape the narrative of recollections—the epic and the comic and the tragic. For many of us domestic chores and family routines and civic responsibilities fill much of our mortal lives. We fill in the spaces of our time depending upon how that time went, how we remember the rooms and dinners and clatter of silverware in the kitchen and illnesses and celebrations and moonlit nights and sunrises on empty streets. Memory is imagining qualified by time.

• The map is not the country. The old goal was to be at home where you found yourself. There was nowhere else to be. A vision quest, a deep anchoring, a rapport with ancestral dreams. Today we often are flying near the edge of space looking down far below at where we live, feeling a bit lost. We are aware of the curvature of earth, we have seen our planet from the moon. We have images of maps and graphic representations of our cities and counties and states and nations but the perspectives are both familiar and strange. Sometimes we can project ourselves into those maps and populate them. The images come and go at their own will as in dreams with their own rhythm. More important than what we see, what passes before us in some unfolding of story and memory and placement of the material world, is the way in which we see. Even today, with the rush of modern life, there remains the truth of an old wisdom: when you find your place where you are, practice occurs. Inscription of the material world in your senses continues, it never ceases, and it reveals itself when the time is right.


Florence 2

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