Pagh, Barbara [faculty advisor, Department of Fine Arts]




Sylvia Plath; Intaglio; handmade books


I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. -Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar This project was created to explore a text I have always felt personally indebted to but never further examined. Tied to my studies in printmaking, specifically intaglio and aquatint methods, and my recent interest in photographing trees, the project was created to explore layers of aesthetic representation. Drawn towards trees that have bare branches free to the open sky, I have built up a library of photographs that I have been incorporating in various personal artistic endeavors, including printmaking. I choose to create a project that incorporated the reoccurring images of the fig tree in Plath’s novel with my own reoccurring desire to incorporate natural images in my work. With a seemingly elegant project proposal, I was left with one overwhelming question: what is the significance of this fig tree image and how can this been reflected in my own representation? My work was incomplete until I could understand the connection. My self-created project had then become huger than I had ever imagined. With library books four-times renewed I was often left puzzled and exhausted by issues of representing representation. While the novel could be critiqued in every direction, from autobiographical implications to issues of marriage and gender, I was left lacking a conceptual direction that encased both Esther Greenwood’s dilemmas and my own. It was not until a long airplane ride allowed me the time to read the entire novel in a new light, that I made an incredible connection between the natural image and the “coming of age” motif the novel held. Had it not been for a recent encounter with Alfred North Whitehead’s Modes of Thought, which discusses an inescapable system of critical thought relating to views of temporality, I never would have seen such a beautiful link between Plath’s representation and youth and nature and my own struggling desires for connections. Striving for perfection, Esther Greenwood is baffled her ability to recognize future events and processes, but is haunted by a past that is no longer. The central image of the fig tree, ultimately represented through my prints, is one that recognizes the role of past within the present and that of an ever-dieing present within an unknown future. The link was Whitehead’s notion of potentiality. The images of nature allow glimpses of the “now” while keeping in mind a past of growth and a future that holds the definite fate of death but infinite possibilities within the finite. My goal is to create a print and textual piece that allows viewers to both recognize and feel these issues of process, nature, and vitality given an ultimate fatality.