Thursday, March 11, 2010

What I saw...

We have been having that glorious California weather where the sky is an impossible blue-it’s breezy but not too cold and you can see snow capped mountains from the beach.

WOW weather…the kind that makes people go “Hell, why we livin in the cold and dirty snow? Let’s move to CalifornyA!”

PLEASE, stay home…

I am a native Californian and have lived here for over half a century-I still haven’t seen all of the state but have perused a great deal of it and having visited most of the lower 48 and Hawaii I gotta tell you just about every state has something that will make you go WOW…

I well remember a crisp morning not unlike the ones we’ve been having a spring not so long ago when I was in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and on that morning I saw my first dogwoods in bloom.

Clouds of pink and white drifting aimlessly over the hills of the historic park just made me drop my jaw and mist over at the incredible beauty of it all.

I saw my first cardinal at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas…we don’t have bright red birds in California (at least not roaming free).

Elks and Buffalo in Yellowstone but more amazing, ANTELOPE running along the road near the lower San Juans in Colorado.

Sinking Springs…I wanted to just stay there in the cool shadows of the place where Abe Lincoln went to get well water from a spring fed cave.

Niagara Falls; alive and thundering in the misty peach-apricot-pink light of a winter dawn with mist like steam that crackles with ice crystals.

So many vivid memories of seasons, times and light captured in my mind, cataloged and saved for a day that isn’t so magical or lovely to behold.

The land of dirt and rocks, barren and flat, uninteresting…so brown along interstate 20 near Midland-Odessa…you wait for the Cadillac Ranch, that improbable sculpture on the south side of the road (same side as the emu and ostrich farms a bit further east.

Go a few miles up north and the whole world changes and wildflowers tumble in impossible profusion amidst scrub brush and grasses where wild Turkeys lurk and jack rabbits hide in the noon sun from ever circling hawks and buzzards.

Towns strung like jewels along a strip of road with town squares and mighty edifices built in another time and another Texas where money was no object and everything was BIGGER!

There is beauty everywhere in this country and it’s sad that some don’t have the eye to see how amazing it can all be from an abandoned mill glowing in the thick air of summer outside Memphis to the colonial villages snuggled in the green forests of New York State, the Amish in Pennsylvania living in another time clucking at their horses in stiff black carriages seemingly unaware of cars zooming past.

The mountains of Arizona and New Mexico can be as alive and colorful as Bryce Canyon in Utah seen on the right day in the right light.

There are cliff dwellings and ruined palaces, abandoned by their owners only a thousand years ago or a little less if you turn in, stop and look.

Seeing takes practice…seeing like an artist can come naturally you need to trust it when you have it.

If it doesn’t come naturally it can be learned, cultivated…

You need to see the patterns within the patterns and the LESS in the TOO MUCHNESS of things.

My art teacher, Rachel Ulrey, said to me before you paint a street scene you paint a window and before you attempt a bowl of fruit you start with an apple.

She had learned to see and then to go beyond and really look at how cool and warm tones coexist in a fusion that defies you to approximate the subtlety in paint and pigments.

I have looked at the sky and seen light that is impossible, if you actually painted what I saw you would have a psychedelic miasma of TOO MUCHNESS---but that light lasts for seconds and changes as it goes, it is impossible to capture in any significant way to look at again.

From a balcony at the Far View Lodge on an evening where storms raged across the plains beneath Mesa Verde I saw a square rainbow hanging neon bright against Payne’s grey clouds and I grabbed the video camera and filmed it-so I had a dim memory, an approximation of the WOW moment…someday perhaps we will have sensory memory chips that we can use to record the actual input from our eyes, noses, skin…you can plug in a be where I was, feel what I felt, see what I saw the way I saw it.

Art tries its best to allow us to share all these things but it’s not the same…even the most astonishing of the greats can only give you a hint…the huge landscapes of the American school and the Hudson River Valley artists can only graze the surface.

If you look at the BBC production of PLANET EARTH in high definition on a big enough screen it can leave you breathless but standing in a field in June outside Longmont, Colorado with lowering clouds and an angry wind scouring that HUGE sky stopped only when you look west where the Rockies form a wall…that is truly breath taking.

The difference may be that one is contrived, edited and formed into a composition that forces you to see what the film maker/artist/cinematographer wants you to see while the other is simply experienced by you as you will.

We see a field and some of us see green, some see flowers peeking through, some see subtle plays of light and shadows but we all have seen the same field and when we paint it we will want others to see it as we have.

It becomes our field.

Abstraction may be the fairest form of ART.

When we see in the abstract we allow that it is a singular vision that no one else can see –so we share it by putting it down for the perusal of others.

Despite the validity of our vision the critics will argue about it and try to find in it the message we were attempting to share.

Take something less abstracted, the garden paintings of Monet.

The Impressionists in general speak to me because I have been taught to see in a similarly Oriental way the subtle over the garish and the cool play off warm tones; the barely green-purple-grey cast a shadow can lay on a bowl.

To me there is no discussion about Monet’s painting you look and you see what he saw-the bits of colour and light dancing in a pond with some water lilies or amongst the tall grasses of a field, the bushes along a path, one petal of one flower.

So I say to you that Catalina Island was hanging offshore in its feathery bed of mist making a soft silhouette against the impossible blue sky of a perfect day in California when you can see the snow capped mountains from the beach… what have I said?

I looked, I saw and that’s all I can say…for a moment I took joy in the place where I am planted but there are similar joys wherever you are as well you just need to see them.

There is a certain satisfaction when the painting is done, when the drawing comes out as you had planned…but it will never surmount the satisfaction of painting with words.


Because whatever I paint with words puts a picture in your mind and that picture is perfect for all of us.

Formed in my vision it translates itself automatically accessing along the way the catalog of things, colours, places, tones and textures you have archived in your mind and paints a picture in your brain.

So pondering all this we come to the fact that the sensory chips are already in place and perhaps they should stay as they are not be improved by science.

Give me enough paint and I can paint you a landscape, give me enough words and I can paint you a masterpiece.


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