Fugue States

suspended from a Roman chain 
fine silver, sterling, copper, shibuichi, 22k gold, Koroit opal
2-1/2” x 3” x 3/8”,, chain 18"
© 2011, V. Lansford 

I've never believed the stupid paradox that "less is more" or that simple is anything other than something that is well marketed but cheaper to produce. Sometimes when I'm talking with friends whose design sense is more streamlined, I become aware of just how layered and complex my design agenda really is. I  love Japanese design in which everything serves a visual or functional purpose. I crave less clutter in my kitchen when I see really well done minimalist interiors, but I well know I'd never be content in such a space for long. 

I joke my work in recent years is like fusion cuisine, a blending of things no one expects to combine but that somehow coalesce into a pleasingly complex result. Technically, my pieces lean toward a kitchen sink approach with 5 different processes thrown in. Why? Well, it's a bit like asking Sir Hillary why he climbed Everest, because it's there; because I can. 

Eastern repousse front cover of a one of a kind, 
long stitch book with calligraphic hand lettering 
over a giclee printed montage of original collages, 
and an acid etched copper back cover
Copper sheet, handmade and photo papers, 
Japanese stick inks, gouache
6" x 6" x 2", height of repousse on portrait is 1"
text: William Shakespeare, Midsummer Night's Dream, 
Act V, Scene i, lines 2-22
©2013, V. Lansford; $12,500.

A few weeks ago something dire happened. For no apparent reason, some distant memory was triggered by some unknown stimulus, and I realized if I let myself, I could hear Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in my head. - If that name doesn't ring a bell, think back to Captian Nemo's organ playing in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and you'll know what I'm talking about. - While for some this might sound like a worthy skill, for me it's a like a bad flashback. My brain quite literally came into existence to that music. Live. On the Organ. At home. All the time. By the time I was 8, it had become a threat, a quick jump by my father to the organ bench, hands poised, "Clean your room now, or else..." - My husband was forced to clean to Disco. It produces similar childhood trauma, the result of which leaves us in constant need of a housekeeper.

Imagination Bodies Forth
I get asked a lot of questions about my background, how I got into metalsmithing, was my family artistic, and so on. I've let slip more than once that I grew up in a musical household, where the "3 B's" were Bach, Beethoven, and Brubeck. 

I've talked often about the Brubeck part, but I've never disclosed much of the Bach side. Beethoven...there was a music box in my room that played a chimy version of Patetique. I can remember screaming from my baby bed for the baby sitter to reach an arm around the door and pull the string for the fifth time. I must have been about 2. Moonlight Sonata is humanity at it's most sublime. For me, Beethoven just is.

Bach on the other hand is tough. I love Bach...for strings...and strings alone. Yo Yo Ma or Joshua Bell playing Bach, and I could just about forget that humans are usually a fear based war loving sort that frequently lack logic or compassion. Bach for organ...that's another story. Not a pretty one. I like crazy circus or movie theater Whirlitzers or a funky solo on a Moog from the 1960's or 70's. Pipe organs, however, are a no go. I listened to too many of them live as a kid. Like people who've had one too many drinks and will go raving mad if they take another, or Inspector Clueseau's boss who devolves into nervous ticks at the mere mention of Peter Seller's famous clumsy character, the sound of a church organ, and I start seeing the benefit of a solitary padded room and meals slid under the door.

Imagination Bodies Forth
(pages 1-2)

But a few days after I realized I still knew Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by heart (in my head, not to play, you understand), I suddenly understood that my work is forever shaped by Bach's compositions. The layers, the parts that move independently or in tandem, the somewhat strange need to put mokume gane, Eastern repousse, and Russian filigree into the same piece, this increasingly complex design agenda of mine is not simply because I have the chops to pull it off. It's because, as lovely as a simple melody can be, it's never enough to consume and fulfill my brain that is so hard wired for counterpoint.

Portrait of Skyler
colored pencil on deerskin vellum
(Creating this portrait gave me the idea for
the repousse bound book.)
Most people have to choose whether to go deeper or wider in their life's work. I always end up doing both. Some days the stress of doing so feels like I will follow in paternal DNA patterns and blow out at a young age (that side of the family is super smart but unfortunately also charter members of the Heart Attack or Stroke by 50 Club). Realizing that what is engaging, mesmerizing actually, about fugues, that they epitomize simultaneously going both deeper and wider with an idea, might just have provided me with the sanity of acceptance. One idea, one motif, turned on its head, played at the same time, over and over, layer upon layer, all together, at once. Bach was onto something. Maybe, so am I.

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