In REMAINS TO BE SEEN, John Spinks explores the mutable relationship between what we see and what we know. Joining musical notes, letters, and maps with geometric forms, he mines both personal and world history. Many of the collages incorporate letters sent to the artist from his father. Written on onion skin paper, the letters appear like delicate memories floating to the surface, full of everyday musings and news. Sometimes the text appears in small towers of words, creating fragile monuments to the vernacular.
Spinks often moves maps of countries around like chess pieces. In the work Asian Fusion, he draws Asia and the United States close, overlapping the two continents, creating new ports of entry and exit through this juxtaposition. He is interested in making the familiar unfamiliar; words, musical notes, and maps lose their original purpose in his collages and are put to work constructing visual mysteries.
Looking for “density and pattern” rather than sound, the artist was first attracted to musical notes for their shapes. In La Mer, Spinks was inspired by a Debussy score of the same name. The sheet music came first, but when he listened to Debussy’s “La Mer” he realized the sounds the composer created “are all about deep space”. There are several works that incorporate musical notes and the sea that Spinks describes this way, “You see the clouds, you see the horizon line, and you see the sea behaving accordingly- it’s harmonic”. Spinks’ skill at using one thing, like a musical note, for its physical form rather than the sound it represents, erases any artificial boundaries between the heard and the seen.
Debussy’s music reminds Spinks of “how a seagull flies sideways..”. This appreciation of the skewed extends to his materials; he prefers them to be weathered and imperfect. The artist’s attraction to asymmetry leads to edges that don’t meet and uneven geometric gestures. Works like Broth on Low Gas and Epistle, that include his father’s letters on delicate onion paper, have an anthropomorphic quality. The wavering grid in one and uneven rectangular towers in the other seem alive and full of movement.
Spink’s attraction to the work and process of Henri Michaux illustrates his own appreciation of altered or higher states of consciousness. The dream-like qualities in these collages appear in different forms. The works can have a soft, tender dreaminess or a graphic mystery; sometimes they combine both. The letters, maps, and musical scores in REMAINS TO BE SEEN seems to guide the artist, and his allegiance to them gives the work its power. They merge in forms that celebrate the imperfect and come, in the artist’s words, “straight off the nervous system”.