Wesleyan University

Ian Boyden: Nirvana: Carbon Inks, Burning Forests, and the Buddhist Endgame


Ian Boyden works across multiple media including painting, sculpture, artist's books, photography, site-specific installations, and land art. Consistent across his productions is an intense interest in material relevance, place-based thought, and ecology, with a deep awareness of East Asian aesthetics. He studied for several years in China and Japan, and ultimately received degrees in the History of Art from Wesleyan University and Yale University. His work is interdisciplinary, and he often collaborates with a variety of scientists, poets, composers, and other visual artists. Boyden's work has been described as simultaneously geological and lyrical, industrial and mystical, dreamlike and archetypal. His art often links the literary, material, and visual imaginations, paying keen attention to how his work can shape ecological awareness. Boyden makes his own paints and inks, often from unusual materials such as meteorites, shark teeth, freshwater pearls, and carbon sourced from the aftermath of forest fires. Using the materials of his subjects to work his way into imaginal representations of the subjects establishes a direct link between material and subject, a new form of translation. His work has been exhibited widely, including a recent solo exhibition at the I.M Pei designed Suzhou Museum. His books and paintings are found in many public collections including Reed College, Stanford University, the Portland Art Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Boyden is also a speaker, writer, and curator. Serving as Director of the Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College (1998–2007), he curated numerous exhibitions exploring diverse subjects including contemporary artists of the Northwest, Chinese calligraphy and scholars stones, genetic imaging, and climate change. He has authored and co-authored several books and essays including The Tables of Jupiter: Graphic Work by Timothy C. Ely (2004), Reflections on Forgotten Surfaces: The Calligraphy of Hua Rende (2005), and Roots of Clouds, Transcendence of Stones (2006). In 2011, Boyden returned to China to research the history and production of carbon inks for a forthcoming book. He currently lives in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon.

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