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Motion Pictures 4: Sandy Bottom Shuffle

Peter Sparling


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Motion Pictures 4: Sandy Bottom Shuffle

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Sandy Bottom Shuffle is a self-portrait, the second large-scale mural painted in the huge studio of the Parsons Center. I videotaped myself moving in my size 11, 6W shoes like the nerdy, goofy 71-year-old retired dancer that I am; the quick improvisation was weighted and close to the ground—no leaps or fancy gyrations. As I projected the video of myself onto the canvas, the movement suggested earthy colors and bold brush strokes, with an acknowledgement of the lower part of the canvas (my clunky footwork) and pictorial foreground. The blue was added after the main body of pink, burnt sienna and red oxide… a body of water, like the center’s own Bellows Lake, with its mucky bottom? I chose to leave areas unpainted, to surround and highlight the body’s materiality and kinetic traces with negative space. The title came last. Do I know how to dance The Shuffle? Maybe I danced a version of it while at Studio 54 back in the day!

59.5"H × 128"W × 0.03"D
acrylic on canvas
Hang unframed by ready-made grommets (5 inserted along both upper and lower edges)
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As a dancer for fifty years of my own choreographic work and as former principal dancer with the companies of Martha Graham and José Limon, I bring to the practice of painting an interdisciplinary sensibility. I am also a video artist, so my practice of composing imagery for moving bodies within both the stage proscenium frame and the screen’s frame inform my consideration of the canvas as site for visual and visceral encounter. A picture of motion is created in the mind’s eye every split second as the eye seeks to comprehend what it sees, what catches its attention. Bodies in motion attract our attention, and a dancer’s motion is my main attraction. With my paintings, or “motion pictures”, I engage my painter self to join the dancer self: I call into play the action of the paint brush in my hand, and my brush hastens to capture via the stroke of paint an essential thread or indelible trace of the dancer’s movement. I hold the brush like a lit sparkler in the darkness and paint the void with traces of its light. What remains is a web, a nest, a cluster of intertwining fibers, ribbons, networks, ganglia: a light dancer, if you will. A picture of motion. A motion picture. My hope is yes, that each of my paintings imprints its unique kinetic branding on the inner eyelid, or a flurry that evokes a fleeting image of a body in motion: some of its delight, fierceness, lyrical effusiveness, animal alertness, its desire to catch my attention, its ability to draw its elusive pictures in space and time. If every instant of our waking and dreaming were seen with such x-ray calligraphy, would we lift off into weightlessness, like the timeless, floating calligraphy on an ancient Chinese scroll painting, or gradually plunge deeply into the microscopic neurocircuitry of our eternally moving bodies, grounded forever and yet newly mobilized in light? I am reminded of a quote from William Goyen’s “The House of Breath”: “Who knows what frescoes lie painted on the inside of the skull?”

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