Tidal Tango

Tidal Tango
24" x 24" oil

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sometimes a place loses its lyric

Here in North Carolina we are in what is called an exceptional drought. When I was at Falls Lake over the holiday I stood on the spot where I painted "Flight of the Gulls" (shown in my previous post) two Decembers ago. The lake is literally evaporating before our eyes! And it reminded me how transitory the lyric of place can be. It has happened to me more often than I would like to admit where I have walked into a landscape where the painting is there before me fully composed only to return with my equipment to find that the tide has come in or the light has changed. I carry unfinished paintings around in my head because I lived all year with the memory of how the sun played off the marsh in early June only to return the following June ready to capture an incredible moment and find that a late summer hurricane has altered the landscape entirely. It reminds me that what I do is more than just take notes from nature, I need to score the entire symphony. And sometimes the majesty is so overwhelming it's impossible to absorb all the element before they move on. On a trip this fall to the Outer Banks I remember we had just set up camp as evening began to fall. As I reached the top of the dune of this magnificent beach the sky and sea were the most unusual hue of lavender that I have ever seen. I was so mesmerized and awed that all I could do was immerse myself in the moment and it's beauty. Try as I might I cannot capture the memory on canvas with the veracity that I require. A lyric by its very nature is dynamic and fleeting. How does one translate its essence to two dimensions?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Lyric of Place

The Lyric of Place

Painting en plein air (in the open air) is when an artist sets up her easel in a garden to capture the immediacy of the moment. It is the pursuit of the unexpected intimacy of the beauty infusing that landscape that offers both the artist and the viewer satisfaction.

The challenge of painting plein air is like a dance with the elements. Light continually changes, buds march relentlessly to blossoms and skies are always in flux. The rhythm of the tides, the timbre of the wind and the spin of the earth become my partners. I have been a plein air painter for thirty years, perched in precarious places observing as just another variation of nature.

The graced eye can glimpse beauty anywhere. “The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open…” says the Irish poet /philosopher John O’Donohue in his book Beauty. This beauty constantly surrounds us but we hurry through life in such a rush all we see is the blur. We miss the lyric of place. This swift, sheer grace can appear at any moment and the plein air painter must stand in her presence with utmost reverence for her truth. This veracity is in the tradition of the great plein painters Constable, Courbet, Monet and Van Gogh.

To dwell with nature so intensely is privilege indeed. Recently while paddling my gear to a secluded cove on Falls Lake, a family of six young herons took flight in a winged ballet. The sky was a clear blue, the sun deliciously warm and the waters mirror still. And I the sole witness, caught in a moment of pure bliss.

In the spring it’s a race as buds open so quickly in the space of an afternoon. They stretch their petals as they unfold in the embrace of a young sun. But the brittle, raw breath of winter on the upper reaches of the Potomac River reveals yet another face of beauty.

Immersion in nature is essential in order to become fluent in her language. She sings to us of our elegance, balance and our selves. The task of the plein air painter is to act as interpreter. My purpose is not to simply replicate the scene. It is to preserve the envelope of the moment so that when you, the viewer, turn your attention to the painting it is like uncorking a fine bottle of wine. You understand the lyric of place. You are overwhelmed by its essence. A good painting should open itself to reveal to you a sense of place in which you can taste the light, dwell in the shadows and exhale beyond the edges of the canvas.

In order to achieve this the painter must stand aside and allow nature to find her own voice, tell her specific story at that precise moment in order to touch you, the viewer. It’s a tango. Every time you revisit the work of art it has new meaning, fresh nuance, caught in that certain light that resonates with your emotions at that particular point in time, perhaps never to be repeated again. When you dwell with such a painting, as you grow, change, deepen, the painting offers new secrets. It’s a dynamic relationship - a private conversation between two souls. That is what a good painting should do.

It’s all in the approach .So the next time you stroll through a gallery to purchase a work of art, don’t just buy a pretty picture. Take the time to listen to what the piece has to say. Find something that speaks to you and feeds your soul.