Mira Cantor Dig

Kingston Gallery

By: - Mar 03, 2024

The Burren has given me clues to the everchanging evolution of natural phenomena and its relationship to humankind. In each painting I bring a sense of history, imagined worlds and time into a single space-time concept. Beneath our feet, the residue of life remains. Here, decomposition is preserved year after year, over hundreds of thousands of years as a memory bank. Strata by strata information is defined, where flesh, organs, hair, nails, clothing survive along with pollen grain, yew root, eel bone, wolf skin and single celled organisms, insects, fossils, are all left embedded in the bog. Joseph Beuys described these sponge realms as “the loveliest elements in the European landscape not only for the Flora and Fauna, but as storage places for life, mystery and chemical changes as preservers of ancient history.”  He was in Ireland in 1974 and refers to the bog in his piece called “Irish Energy” consisting of a mound of butter sandwiched between two enormous peat briquettes. Seamus Heaney wrote extensively about the bog in the Burren (Digging) in his 1970 poems.

In my pilgrimages to the Burren over the years, I had an urge to see what lies underground, to make more sense of our humanity. Our core relates to earth’s core, the place where digestion and disintegration occurs. The belly of our world lies beneath us.  We need to explore it; dig it up.  

I have been underground in a variety of countries beginning with the mastabas in Egypt, climbing down ladders through shafts of hieroglyphs and images to chambers of the dead. In the Dordogne at Padirac Chasm, I rode an elevator ten stories down to a cave system with otherworldly stalactites where I rowed in a flat bottom boat through a subterranean river with pools and massive limestone configurations. Looking at authentic charcoal drawings in the Cave of Altamira, I experienced the earliest accomplishments of  human expression from 40,000 years ago. The catacombs under the streets of Paris reinforce the continual fascination with “digging “and discovery of former lives underground. Most recently in southern Poland, I visited the elaborate Neolithic 2400-acre underground Wieliczka Salt Mines with their maze of tunnels.  

Extracting salt since the 13th century, now artists use this site as a gallery, creating contemporary sculptures from salt. Not too far away lie the mass shallow graves of Birken Belsen, dug in haste. We dig to find bodies, hostages, Hamas which I can imagine from my visit to the Tunnels of Cuchi in Vietnam where the VietCong launched their offensive.

We dig to find something beneath us, forgotten, left over, a bone, or an artifact, a piece to an unsolved puzzle. We dig for gold, diamonds and oil. We dig for fossils as old as 2.5 billion years when the earth first had oxygen. We are always digging for the truth when we dig in the library stacks to rearrange knowledge and rethink what we think we already know. Dig to find; dig to unearth, dig for answers to problems. Dig deeper for more success and expertise, dig the situation, and dig into the problem to find out the facts—to learn and improve upon the human condition.

Dig to plant seeds, to grow, to eat. We all start out with a pail and a shovel to fill it up. Make it count. If we listen to nature, we can direct the future. We still don’t know where we came from although we now know that our nutrients and chemicals are found in ancient rocks that came from asteroids. We need to hear nature’s calls as the planet warms, and we may be squeezed into an oxygen- less world again where underground may be the only place left to go.

In my new paintings I am imagining “evolutants” stuck in the mud, from remains of the flora and fauna of the smallest cell-like creatures to the evolution of our present human form, painted as staggered layers of history. They are colorful, animated patterns of biological and imaginary forms painted in acrylic and oil. Each of the 6 paintings that I will exhibit in March of 2024 will be approximately 48” x 54”. I will also include 25 drawings in mixed media; ‘sand drawings’ that keep eroding slowly.

All life runs out of time, but it never disappears. It is hidden in the depths of the soil. Through archeology, anthropology and geology we can piece together new knowledge as technology shows us new ways to scour the earth. We can literally re-appear out of time in some altered state or leftover pieces of DNA. I wanted to make a painting that you could look at and hear. Upon looking, it made sounds; not literally but in its essence of meaning—it sung with silence.  Can you dig it?

This Research and Development grant will be used for a reception to the public, university faculty and students as well as framing and mounting materials for the exhibition. It will also be used for stretchers for the 8 large canvases and a printed invitation.

This exhibition will bring together the faculty and administrators I have worked with during my 40 years of tenure with Northeastern University.


Mira Cantor, born in New York City and graduated with an MFA from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Her career was established in painting, drawing and mixed media sculpture while teaching at the University of Hawaii in 1970. She became a fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT from 1978-80, where she taught drawing in the Dept. of Architecture.  In 1994-95, she was awarded a Fulbright to Alexandria, Egypt where she taught and exhibited her work at the American Center.

Cantor’s solo shows include the Tokyo American Center in Japan, the BWA Gallery in Krakow, Poland, Hampshire College, De Cordova Museum, Fitchburg Art Museum, The Contemporary Arts Center, Honolulu, Gallery Lohrl in Dusseldorf to name a few. Cantor is included in the collections of the Danforth Museum, Rose Art Museum at Brandeis(drawing) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (drawing), the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Contemporary Arts Center of Honolulu. Her drawings have been exhibited at the Vienna Biennale, Norwegian Internationale Print Biennale as well as biennales in Yugoslavia, Krakow and Venice. She has work in many private collections here and abroad. There is a permanent exhibition of her police drawings at the Police Headquarters in Boston.

Currently, Mira Cantor is a professor at Northeastern University where she has been teaching art for 30 years. Until 2004, Cantor was represented by the Genovese Sullivan Gallery in Boston She has been a member of the Kingston Gallery in Boston since 2013. Her drawings have been curated in group exhibitions by William Stover “Passion” in 2003, “The Boston Drawing Show” curated by Carl Belz in 1998 and in 1993 curated by Cliff Ackley. She has spent several residencies in Banff, Canada, and Ballyvaughn, Ireland where her interest in nature, history and contemporary culture continue to seep into her work.

Mira Cantor|Dig

February 28 - March 31, 2024

Opening Reception: March  , 5-8pm

Gallery Talk with Mira Cantor and MFA curator Martina Tanga,  Saturday: March 9 at 2pm