Heather Otrando ∼ Trains of Thought, the Play of Meaning

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Trains of Thought, the Play of Meaning
by Heather Otrando

Misha Bittleston works with ink on paper: thick swathes of black ink, or tiny pixels shading the paper gray. To see his work on a computer screen, no matter how high-resolution the image, is to feel teased. One wants to see the texture of this work, to walk close to it and then step back, then forward again, to tilt one's head so the light catches it just a little differently.Misha Bittleston: Untitled STKG IV, 2003-11-19 But even on the screen, there are images that entrance. In one, there are four shapes, shapes somewhere between triangles and rectangles. When I first looked at this piece, the weather was damp and the sky outside my window was gray; I saw four umbrellas, very old, more like parasols perhaps, frayed and unravelled at the edges, folded up and leaning against the wall of some entryway. Another glance and the shapes were looming ships, advancing through a mist. What had been the handle of a parasol was now a smokestack; what had been frayed thread was now a crowd of people on deck. Or perhaps skyscrapers of the future: new organic shapes. Once I'd started to see the shapes as "organic" rather than objects, I was struck by the curves of the second from the right, curves like those of a dancer's graceful leg in a thigh-high black stocking.

Bittleston's other works are as rich with possibility, abstract landscapes through which the eye and mind can wander and imagine. Though these works are black-and-white, they are far from monotonous: black, white, and gray form all the palette that Bittleston needs, and the subtleties of shading he creates are evidence of this. For a literarily-minded person like myself, art like this brings the same pleasure as writing like Gertrude Stein's does: in Stein's writing, the lack of punctuation gives words a different valence, lets meaning flow like water, in a variety of paths and into a variety of shapes. Abstraction in art has the same result: the viewer can play with meaning and its absence, can assign meanings that are as universal or as idiosyncratic as he or she wishes.

Author Heather Otrando (Brooklyn, New York)
Heather Otrando Graduate of Columbia University, sometime-poet and leading authority on carousels.


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