There are many blessings to painting in Northeastern NC. There is a big sky over sandy soil and vibrant water, and all of these things play with the light. There is a noble–and quirky–built environment, rich in handwork. And there are people, both resident and visiting, who value these things.
At the Cupola House benefit mentioned in the last post, I met many who are alive to the beauty of this part of the world. Many thanks to the Cupola House Association and my patrons.
And thanks, too, to those who brought me vulture quills from St. Paul’s churchyard while I was painting there.
Above an image of “Barn and Mist,” which I submitted to this year’s LandMark competition at Arts of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City. Gimlet-eyed readers will recognize a detail of the same as the main image of this blog. It took first prize.
Many thanks to Darlene Tighe and Keli Hindenach, the gallery manager and excutive director who put on the event during the approach of the tropical storm and sometime-hurricane Hilene. Likwise to Munroe Bell who beat the storm in time to judge the work.
I have painted this region for almost a decade and have loved it even longer. It was a delight to be in a room full of people who love it.
The picture is for sale at Arts of the Albemarle. Call them at 252-338-6455. Armed with this and a few books by Bland Simpson, you’d be all set. Or as they say in Northeastern North Carolina, you’d be right, I reckon.
I’ll be contributing a handful of pictures to a show for the Asheville Humane Society, whose title, if you remember your 12th-grade English Literature class, comes from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal. –from Canto iv.
The show’s page on Alchemy’s site features images of animals and landscape: some quadrupeds, a skull, found objects put into still lives, as well as tilled fields. I’m thinking of adding some dog and wolf studies, and a painting of some chickens.
The show’s title got me thinking. It’s hard to gain access to really wild things. Human influence is everywhere. Even the wolf shown here is as incapable of survival in the wild as a typical laying hen. That’s a basic problem with Romanticism: whether or not you love the wilderness, you can’t get there from here, as Byron, on the run from industrial England, knew all too well. There is an unintended human presence in what we hairless bipeds regard as “pathless.”
Even if you could escape civilization and dwell in unspoiled wilderness, you’d have some explaining to do. Byron’s words might help: “I love not man the less but Nature more.” Somehow, Nature–whatever that is–is supposed to be more capable of love than human beings. For Americans, whose history is a series of overcoming wilderness, that is problematic; if we are busily spoiling nature, where is our love supposed to go?
Without an appropriate receptacle for our love, we find it easy as well as common to heap love on anything that is “natural,” as our buying habits disclose. It is easier to fetishize unkempt things than to admit the absence of wild things. As the biography of any teenager will show you, love out of proportion is a growth pain, not growth.
For that reason alone, honesty in landscape painting matters, especially when it is honest enough to treat small things, like individual animals, trees and structures. Painting and collecting their images are acts of stewardship and devotion, and they give wholesome enjoyment. They are worth doing because they remind us that culture begins in path-making and that, however we may dream of trackless places, to enter them is to blaze a trail
This painting grew from a sketch, a study and a rendered drawing. I felt like a gardener before spring, transplanting little seedlings from pot to pot as I drew, measured, enlarged, and painted. Each time, I trusted the image to materials I made myself.
It is satisfying to brew one’s own ink, cut panels, dissolve rabbit-skin glue and dust for gesso. Taking handmade materials outdoors makes one look more acutely. One of my teachers, Nathan Bertling, used to tell me, “If you love your paper, you’ll love your drawing.” He meant that time spent in preparation makes for good execution.
Much is made these days of “plein air” painting, and often I’m asked, “Did you do that all plein air?” To which I say “Harumph. I was working before I went outside.”
First, I corrected the date given for my show in Edenton next month. It is now to open on Thursday December 4th. The time remains 5:30pm. The volunteers who run the Chowan Arts Council Gallery didn’t want the show to conflict with the lighting of the town Christmas tree.
Second–and as promised–another look at Bunch’s garage, which greets entrants into the town. Last year I made the quick sketch of it in China ink, paying attention almost entirely to the shadows cast by the molding. The building sports a certain posture despite its age, so I returned to the spot, this time to study the texture of the corrugated sheet-metal siding:
The rhythm of verticals in the building’s fabric makes a strong contrast to the contorted oak forms behind. I chose a prepared paper to catch the sense of atmosphere that nourishes the trees and ages the building, because, for the time being, the structure’s age contributes to its dignity. I also abandoned the brush, intending to suggest brittleness with the use of goose and steel pens.
Making a drawing out of a million tiny lines demands an upped tempo and a light touch at once. It asks both draftsman and viewer to see with two faculties that our historical moment hates: aggression and restraint.
This site now includes a selection figure drawings. Browse it on the page so named.
For a visual artist, drawing the figure is like playing scales for a musician: essential. For anyone with eyes, figure drawings remind us of what we are. We are not souls in bodies. We are souls and bodies.
Witness the fellow above. He doesn’t just inhabit three-dimensional reality; he is three-dimensional reality. To enjoy art is to participate in this truth.