Spirit in the Sky

Spirit in the Sky

Jessie Chaney discusses her series Spirit in the Sky as evoking an every-present energy or spirit. They are presented as tondos, reflecting upon the continuity of life, and notions of infinity and endlessness. The circle is evocative of a portal, reinforced by Chaney’s images of clouds, the sky and beyond. Her photographs are unplanned, spontaneous moments, shot when the vistas present themselves. Beyond the sprawl of large cities we can more easily ponder the majesty of nature. Chaney provides us with glimpses of beauty amid the bustle of daily life.

The insignificance of human endeavors becomes apparent when considered against sublime natural surroundings. As the sun goes down and the moon and stars shine, our role in the cosmos shrinks even further. Across Spirit in the Sky there are no visible people – indeed there is little indication of a human presence – with the most obvious clues being vapor-trails streaking across a large, orange-pink afternoon cloud.

And of course, clouds inhabit Spirit in the Sky. They are symbols of a life-force themselves, occasionally delivering destructive tempests but more often nourishing the earth and all her creatures with life-sustaining water. Sometimes clouds take on a menacing tone, while at other times they are innocuous and gentile, sitting far off on the horizon. In one of Chaney’s artworks we are floating up amid them. In another we glimpse a partial double-rainbow following rain that recently passed overhead.

We see tantalizing little glimpses of Venice Beach. Greenery finds its way in the picture across the series, be it through iconic Californian palm trees, sections of forests or the magnificent Rockies. In one image several birds soar high overhead, tiny silhouettes against a vast blue-grey backdrop as often depicted in European masterpiece paintings. Indeed, we can find reminders of Baroque French painter Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) through Chaney’s framing of the bright flare of the setting sun as the focus of some images; in others, bright rays of sunlight push through distant clouds, imbuing the scenarios with a notable piety.

In the shadows of legendary American photographers such as the landscapes of Ansel Adams and the social documentary photography of Dorothea Lange, along with a nod to novelist John Steinbeck, Chaney elicits a story of Americana that has never really gone away.

Essay by Gordon Craig

Gordon Craig is a writer, curator and artist based in Brisbane, Australia. He has over twenty years’ experience in museums and galleries, primarily working with contemporary art, and has particular interests in photography and printmaking. He has curated over thirty exhibitions, and his writings on various aspects of art and photography have been published in over 50 books, catalogues and magazines.


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