DORIS CROSS

by Paul Henrickson, Ph.D.

tm. © 2007

DORIS CROSS

Doris Cross, an artist resident in Santa Fe, does not follow the still popular and rather stereotyped romantic attitude toward subject matter which has brought a kind of fame to the southwestern artist, nor does involve herself with Indian motives so attractive to a large segment of the public. In fact, it would be accurate to say that even against the background of the rich and multi-faceted contemporary scene, Cross’ work does stand out in high relief.

By Paul Henrickson
(this article first appeared in Art Voices South sometime in the late 1970’s)

tm. © 2007

Doris Cross, an artist resident in Santa Fe, New Mexico, does not follow the still popular and rather stereotype romantic attitude toward subject matter that has brought a kind of fame to the Southwest, and to the southwestern artist---nor does she involve herself with Indian motifs so attractive to a large segment of the public. In fact it would be accurate to say that even against the background of the rich and multifaceted contemporary Santa Fe scene, Cross’s work does stand out in very high relief.

Cross is an active, continually exploring artist and is non-fashionable. To grow and be non-fashionable could have a relationship that could be described as cause and effect. If one probes for knowledge and awareness, history has repeatedly taught us, we might expect opposition or neglect. Either one of those social responses to innovation would not encourage a climate of “fashionableness”. Cross’s current work is a melding of word and image, dependent on no criteria other than he own sense of appropriateness. While she is very knowledgeable about art, its history, its processes, and its value as a tool to advance and to sensitize civilization, she has not felt compelled to be constrained by the accomplishments of artists from the past, not even the recent past. Cross works with columns from the dictionary. Of her own work she says: “By establishing a state of concentration, by ignoring definitions, I look at my dictionary, some words in a particular chosen column associate to other words as I look up and down the column. They connect to make new meanings. Words are like clues…private secret clues. “The discipline consists of leaving the words exactly where they are found in the column. The visualization of form comes through a clear presentation of the results of the reductive process by applying a deliberate system to a source.” For the mathematician the symbol of eternity is that symbol’s movement. Turning in upon itself and returning to its source. Aikido experts to indicate the rhythmic reaction to action have also used it. Whether or not she realizes it Doris Cross is a vehicle for man’s historic systolic diastolic ambivalence concerning word symbolism pictures and meaning. In recent history there have been several creative innovators who have made pictures out of words, or used words, letters, or other symbols on the “body” of their works. Pablo Picasso, Kurt Schwitters, Stuart Davis and George Braque, to mention a few. But with Cross the results are different from all these, for the drawn pictures are not illustrations to compliment a story line, nor is the text a caption for the picture. Cross is not defining words nor is she intentionally making “poetry”.

She proceeds, largely, by means of an openness of concentration, a kind of creative wonder and mental flexibility, and begins to make word patterns by crossing out some of the words in a dictionary column, leaving others visible, and revealing a meaning quite otherwise hidden within what everyone can recognize as the practical intent of a dictionary column. Similar but in reverse procedure to that of the ancient Essenes, whose sacred texts were designed to conceal the intended meaning from the profane by submerging in the body of a longer text, key words which only those initiated would know. Cross has turned the one book available to everybody into a source of magical inventions and provocative insight, revelations and visions, in its way apocalyptic. Cross demonstrates once again that the sources of creative stimulation may be found anywhere, and that an indispensable ingredient for their discovery is a certain aesthetic acquiescence, an avoidance of an imposition of the ego on external phenomena. I consider her approach to be mystical, which is suggested by the column “Absalom” emphasizing the magical incantation or “nonsense” word “Abracadabra”, their coincidental positions in the dictionary column allowing its transformation onto a psalm of lament. “Raw” is an even better illustration of the type of discovery, or meaning, emerging from this unconventional approach. Here words have been reserved on the basis of sound as well as symbol: “…certain American hav horny lock…harsh ugh as a voice…devastate a country …sack a town….” and then a change of mood where “Ravelin” (a term designating a defensive military device) is altered to form “ave”…an ancient greeting of honor, now, reserved for the Virgin Mary. Cross’s columns of “found words” alter conventional interpretations, and become graphically transformed and conceptually enriched… whether the plastic means is a photostat, a photograph, a lithograph or a painting.

Doris Cross: “Dictionary Column Page”