Clairissa and Colby Stephens
Some people collect coins or comic books or Pokémon cards. But husband-and-wife artist team Colby and Clairissa Stephens collect horizon lines.
“We’ve been collecting horizon lines over the last several years,” said Clairissa. “Basically, interesting ones that we have experienced either through backpacking or driving through very rural Nevada.”
It’s a pastime that makes use of both Clairissa and Colby’s talents—drawing and photography respectively—and it is the subject of their latest exhibit, Horizon Lines, now on display at Sierra Arts.
At first blush, Horizon Lines
looks slick, clean and attractive in an Instagram filter sort of way. It’s the kind of installation that a graphic designer might put together—what with its washed-out color palette, well-planned negative space and everything-in-one pieces that seem to tie all the loose parts together.
But Horizon Lines is more than just good-looking. Beyond familiar imagery from the artists’ previous exhibits (root-bound drawings, contour lines, cracked earth paintings made of playa dust), the Stephens hit on something new—a series of circles that serve as a metaphor for understanding the boundaries of landscape.
Inside each of the circles—there are nine—the viewer faces one of three types of imagery: photographs of clouds, particles of actual diatomaceous earth, or contour-like lines that reference cartography. Earth meets Line meets Sky. They are titled by location (“South of Fallon,” “Railroad Valley,” “Mt. Irish Wilderness”) and tagged with GPS coordinates.
Figuratively, all of these “inner circle” visuals point to what we already know about the landscape, while the circumference of each circle—jagged and topographic instead of smooth and rounded—represent the limits of understanding. The interface where known meets unknown.
“That component of the mystery of the unknown is very compelling to both of us,” said Colby, “Horizon lines keep you from understanding all of the intricacies of [a] space until you cross it.”
Upon crossing the edge of each circle, the viewer is met with blank space. It’s a void that reminds Colby of the “giant old maps from the 1800s,” when the West was still unmapped and called “The Unknown.”
“Everything west of the Rockies, between that and California was basically where it was left blank,” said Clairissa.
Of course, nothing stays void for long. Frontiers on maps and the boundaries beyond a circle’s edge are soon populated with landmarks, waypoints, folklore and raw data. Real, genuine uncharted territory is hard to discover these days.
But that doesn’t stop the Stephens from looking for it—and finding it—in remote corners of Nevada.
“Because we spent most of our lives in western Oregon and there’s a lot of forests here, you don’t see horizon lines,” said Colby. “Being able to see the horizon in 360 degrees allows you to locate yourself in terrestrial space in a very specific kind of way.”
And once Point A is reached, there’s always a Point B to get to.
“Lines do not simply demarcate the boundaries of three dimensional space,” reads the Stephens’ artist statement. “They also trace the ways that humans, animals, plants, and water move through it.”
Back in Oregon, the couple continues to document lines—horizons, foot trails, rooting patterns, and branching capillaries of streams, creeks, and rivers. Paths of least resistance and most interest. Paths that still lead to a void.