Rock, Trees, Sand and Sea, Popham to Blue Hill
Greenhut Galleries exhibit 2017
In her essay,“Living Like Weasels,” published 1974 in Tinker at Pilgrim’s Creek, Annie Dillard describes her locked gaze with a weasel she confronts in the wilderness. Reflecting on the weasel’s tenacious bite, holding on to its prey, she writes, “ I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go.” Consistent with her thoughts, I have not let go of painting about a segment of Maine’s changing coastline in this body of work, “Rock, Trees, Sand and Sea, Popham to Blue Hill.”
My inspiration began with painting the erosion of a dune at Popham Beach in 2011. I wrote in 2015:
“I continue to paint a particular dune at Popham Beach in Phippsburg, Maine. I have painted this rapidly evolving motif for four years while looking toward land with the pull of the sea behind me. I stand or sit below the dune, looking upward to the sky through the gnarled pines where the horizon is obliterated by the great sand dune. Cutoff edges of turf roll over like old frayed carpets and the sand slides away forming caverns of shadow below the turf overhang. Tangled roots reach down toward the sliding sand for stability are naked and vulnerable to the pulling and tugging of beach wanderers. Standing trees I painted at the precipice years ago are now the great white logs that roll with the tides, stacking up, forming the new sea wall. They resemble mammoth remains lumbering on the beach, or great arms with fists of root that point angrily at the sea. In many respects this ever-changing motif is a burial ground, yet the beauty I paint is the cycle of life.”
In 2015 I painted segments of the evolving beach at Popham further from shore, then migrated further Downeast to sites at Tanglewood 4H Camp, Fernald’s Way in Lincolnville, Mount Battie and various coves in the Blue Hill area, I continued painting at various eye levels and at low tide. Inspired by the chaotic tangle of trees and boulders at Tanglewood, I backpacked along the Ducktrap River to paint the high and low ground of rocks hidden behind the tangle of trees when the river was low. Obliterated by trees and river reflections, the fractured light required careful study. My perceptions of the land changed as the sun moved low through the day, particularly a large bolder that sometimes appeared round, and at others, jagged and box-like.
I worked at the outlet of the Ducktrap River near Lincolnville Village in the mornings to capture the appearance of the bridge emerging from land. In afternoon light, looking in the opposite direction, I sat on the beach lat the point of land with Islesboro in the distance, and painted the warmth of land through the maze of spring trees and the rock base visible at low tide.
My purpose was to capture the structure of the land mass meeting bodies of water at Curtis, MacHurd and Peter’s Coves in Blue Hill. I used shoreline rocks, and trees as structural markers and marked them in charcoal before painting incoming tides. I reveled in the musical patterns of staccato, marching rocks, moving water and gathering trees.
My initial objective was about establishing a strong composition in each painting, while covering canvas with large moving brush strokes. As a work developed, being circumspect about its progression, I engaged in a kind of visual and thematic dialogue. I returned countless times to a site, and while painting, physically moved a large distance away to study the compositional progression, and then forward, experimenting with multiple painting tools to build interesting canvas surfaces.This process continued until a painting assumed a character and a will outside of my own.
In the body of work, I was compelled to describe land structure at various eye levels, while simultaneously resolving various hazards of painting landscape on-site, such as the challenge of painting foreground, translating greens and blues into paint, and working with various painting surfaces to build an engaging skin. Questions I continually revisited were, “What belongs to sky, what belongs to the painting, and what belongs to me?” I was most drawn to low tide wherein land mass is easily seen without water, and as tides came and went, having first painted the land, I then questioned “At what point do I bring in the sea?” I found this challenge very exciting, having less than an hour to capture a particular moment.
Spending entire days to capture low tides, presented various color and light alternatives to each painting. With certain paintings, I found the combination of morning and afternoon light, followed with studio work, revealed a silver like quality in resolving “Trees and Rocks, MacHurd Cove.” Although I hesitated painting “MacHurd’s Cove, Low Tide” because it presented overwhelming beauty, I worked at various times of day and in the studio. This project brought something else to the painting. A transitory, glass-like fragility emerged in its resolution.
I find it ironic that a sand fence, erected to forestall erosion, had fallen and still remains mostly buried by sand at Popham. Yet countless trees have fallen, taken out by rising seas and changing river trajectories, and subsequently returned with tides, bleached white and stacked up as natural sea walls.
This work required returning countless times to each site, at similar tides and times of the day through similar seasons. I increasingly learned not to allow planning to be an obsession but developed an instinct for tidal shifts, letting go of plotting travels from tide and weather charts but sensing timely returns.
Other than visual, the work is also a record of my emotional response to painting in nature: moving water, osprey screams, beating eagle’s wings, buffeting wind, seasonal odors, minks’ high pitched squeals, and nature’s quiet after sunset in autumn.
My work is naturalistic; painting my perception of nature while in it. It is expressionistic in that while painting, I’m cognoscente of my senses being integral to a work’s evolution. I’m a conceptualist by virtue of my ideas that formulate each painting or a group of works, and that the creative process will invariably shift and reveal new understandings and ideas over time. I find perception is transitory and dependent on countless influences and processes.
I especially want to thank Jo Frielich, whose generosity and hospitality made it possible for me to paint the coast from Lincolnville to East Blue Hill with minimal travel from her High Tide Inn in Camden, and also to Lennart Anderson, 1999-2015, whose teaching and friendship continues to inform my painting.