Along a Long Line

“Maybe it’s time to start thinking about  the world as a shared space divided by scientific measure rather than national boundaries.”

Several years ago art professor Mike Glier ’75 bought himself a French easel and, much like the Impressionists of the 19th century, began painting outdoors in Williamstown and near his home in Hoosick, N.Y. His interpretations of the local landscape became part of a series he titled “Latitude,” in which he described the changes of color, light and motif in a single region as the earth tilted on its axis over the course of a year.

“I loved getting out of my studio and the limitations of my studio,” he says. “The bugs, wind changes, light. You have to be very responsive when you paint outdoors.” Glier then took the concept global, embarking in June 2007 on an artistic and ecological journey to paint four locations along the 70th meridian, beginning in Baffin Island, Canada. He then logged two months each in the rainforest at Ecuador’s Jatun Sacha Reserve, on the beaches of St. John, Virgin Islands, and in the streets of New York City.

All the while, Glier kept a blog, putting into words much of what he was setting in oil to the aluminum panels on his easel. His weekly entries, available at alongalongline.com, formed the basis of his 208-page hardcover book, Along a Long Line (Hard Press Editions, 2009), which includes an essay by Lisa Corrin, director of the Williams College Museum of Art, and an interview by Carol Diehl, an artist and art critic.

“I started the blog to keep in touch with family and friends and to record for myself the adventure,” says Glier, a 1996 Guggenheim Fellow whose drawings and paintings have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the San Diego Museum of Art. “If I had thought that I was writing a book for publication, I may have been too self-conscious to report on things like clouds and rocks.”

Soon the process of writing became very much inseparable from Glier’s diaristic act of painting. As Corrin notes in her essay for the book, “Just as Glier dissolves the distinction between nature and culture, so he breaks down the normative barrier between verbal and visual, text and image. It is in the interstices between the two media where he asserts his belief in painting not as a system of representation but as a way of being, an ethos.”

While freezing in the Arctic, sweltering in the rainforest and monitoring Manhattan streets from building rooftops, Glier frequently brainstormed topics for his blog. “But most often I’d wait for something interesting to come my way,” he says. Some days he’d roam around snapping photos, capturing about 3,000 images that provided the inspiration for much of his written material.

The leap from blog to book wasn’t too daunting for Glier. (“Since a blog post immediately goes public, any error of content or grammar can forever be retrieved as evidence of the author’s failings, and as a consequence the author is motivated to carefully edit,” he says.) In fact, it allowed him to separate the conceptual art aspects of the project from the 40 paintings he composed and eventually exhibited. “I wanted the paintings to stand alone and be judged on their own merits and not propped up by the back story of their conception,” he says. “I made the book as a separate artwork to hold the conceptual aspects of the project such as visualizing the globe, recording stories, thinking about the act of perception and being in the moment.”

As a follow-up to “Latitude” and “Along a Long Line,” Glier is completing a third project, “Antipodes” (www.antipodes.us), in which he is painting landscapes on opposite points of the globe, beginning with Botswana and its antipode, Hawaii. What all three endeavors have in common is not simply their snapshot view of a time and place in the environment but also the challenge of being a global citizen. “We’re of a generation in which we’re asked to stretch our perception a great deal,” he says. “We are to be sensitive to our local environment, to protect its natural beauty, its uniqueness and its resources. But at the same moment, we are asked to consider the effects of our actions on a global scale. To consider the local and global at once requires a great deal of imagination and empathy. It’s a stretch!”

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Jon Roemer