Sunday, February 5, 2012

Inscribing a circle

I've been drawing circles since I was four, but my fascination with them as an art form dates back to to the 80's in front of an ashram in Oakland, CA, where, just outside the door, I saw a most astonishing drawing done in a rich array of vibrant colors all contained in a circle.

Ritual rangoli done in powdered pigments
These circles, called rangolis, were done for religious or healing ceremonies. As an artist, I ached to be able to do something like this and after some investigation, came upon the mandala (the Sanskrit word for circle), an art form with a long history across many cultures. Like the rangoli, it is art created created for ritual purposes in a circular form and these days, also employed in art therapy.

New Years Mandala, ©2008, Hannah Hunter, Collage
So, while I've been painting, collaging, and inscribing these geometric discs for years, nothing could have prepared me for the excitement about the circle that recently burst upon the art scene in the form of Damian Hirst's spots.

I started poking around and pretty soon I discovered that I could make a distinction between a circle and a spot. It's strictly my interpretation, but the way I see it is that the spot is just that: a rounded mark or splotch made by foreign matter. It seems to have arrived in a rather casual manner.

Spots tossed on a watercolor in the studio, photo by Amelia McSweeny
The circle on the other hand is a closed line, something inscribed in which all the points on the line lie at the same distance from the center. It seems intentional, elegant, something that shows up in nature, but also something that 3 and 4-year olds begin drawing as they enter into the world of representation. The circle is one of the early building blocks.

Rose Colored Egg, ©1998, Hannah Hunter, Colored pencil
I looked up on my studio wall, where all three current pieces are iterations of the circle, so I tried to dig a bit deeper to see what was so fascinating-- and, what keeps me returning to them as a form decade after decade.
Rice Bowl, ©2012, Hannah Hunter, Collage
I'm reminded of something that another blogger, Gwyneth Leech, said in a recent post, "Spots Before My Eyes...:""...there is the infinite variety of things, then there is an infinite variation of one thing." A circle suggests eternity (think of a ring), something bigger than myself, time layered upon itself, the pleasure in creating a multitude of variations on a theme.

Zodiac Season, ©2010, Hannah Hunter, Collage
The idea that each circle can both be the same yet different; it's own infinite, elegant universe is  powerful. A 3-year taps into these infinite possibilities without fear or the preconceived notions of adults. When I began this post I thought that I'd be arguing for the integrity of the circle, but now that I've experienced spots and dots รก la Hirst (and, for a great post on spots, see Joanne Mattera's  "Connecting the Dots), I'm looking to get rid of some of my trepidation and preconceived notions, and hopefully, adopt some of the spot philosophy too.

I know that many of you have had fun in the studio with circles, spots and dots--if you have any stories or images you'd like to share I'd love to hear from you.


  1. My husband is a Buddhist and I think that is why it has been part of our marraige to live in circles. Maybe spirals is a better way to put it. Spirals of time. We do things over and over adding layers each year to what has become almost a series of remarriage ceremonies. Maybe that's putting too much on it. Spirals in time that add layers to our relationship. That's a better way to say it.

    One of those spirals is our annual trip to Paul's tree. He first met the tree when he was in high school. It is an ancient Doug fir. It grows over a stream that cascades down a cliff onto the beach at Kalaloch. The tree is large and is, at this point, hanging on by its toes. As it grew it tilted until the truck swerved into an elegant S shape. It appears to be dancing. There it lives, poised in the air above water, suspended by its roots,somehow surviving year after year.

    We got married in front of it and we visit it every year.

    Of course it's a motif for me: the tree in a circle. I have made many prints, collages, and drawings of the tree, always in a circle. I made a relief sculpture of it in a circle, too. And every year we circle back to visit it.

    It will be a hell of a shock when it finally falls down!


  2. Hi Hannah
    I love your post, and your art and the idea of bonding with an element in the way that you describe.

    Since 1991 and my first introduction to Angeles Arriens' gorgeous book 'Signs of Life' I've been exploring the Universal Shapes that surround us every day and in every area of nature and design...the circle is quite special representing as it does both the micro and the macrocosim... both a hug and the earth itself.

  3. Ah, the spiral, a circle layered on top of itself, is the shape I'm drawn to. I'd never thought more deeply about the why of the shape, althought after reading your intriguing post I think a little investigation is in order.

    1. Hannah, Great to read about the beginnings of your connection to the circle...spiral. I like each one of your examples of your work! I especially enjoy the circle within the square...infinite possibilities.

  4. Laura, that is a marvelous motif; the renewing of vows within the tree's serpentine embrace, adding layers of meaning with the passing of time. Thank you for sharing that--I'd be very curious to see some of the tree's art.

    Donna--that makes me think of being outside, perhaps waiting for something or someone and focusing on one aspect of a nature; a leaf, a flower, a pod and trying to break it down into its geometric parts; a puzzle in reverse.

    Patty- I love spirals too--partially because of the visual, and partially because it seems such an apt metaphor for life.

    Thank you Blue Sky. It's something I keep returning to over and over throughout the years. Timeless like myths...

  5. Ahh the beauty of Rangoli. A ritual of every traditional Hindu household (in India). It has been a ritual in my home (In India) for years. Every morning the front of the house was washed and then a small little Rangoli was made. On special occasions it was more elaborate where every doorway, center of the house, in the Puja (worship) room a bright and beautiful rangoli was made. Almost as if we are laying a Red Carpet for friends, family and everything good (and bad) coming in.
    Thank you for taking me back there :)

  6. Hi Hannah, It's always wonderful and thought provoking to stop by your blog.xo

  7. I am a fellow circle and dot lover.. the enso, which is the circle element in Zen means completion.

  8. Joyits--I love this notion of laying out the welcome carpet for all that comes one's way...good or bad. Do you still create them in your new home?

    Thanks Maddy--I value your encouragement.

    Donna-enso-yes--what a great word. It has a kind of circular sound to it as well.