Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Nothing but good news

This exquisitely summery weather has finally driven my cold away and I am preparing to go island-hopping once again. Penobscot Bay here in Maine is one of my very favorite places in all the world and I seem to have spent much of the last few years painting its islands and edges from various locations all around the bay. Last month I was out in the middle of it, looking at views such as this - a painting from my trip, the view toward Sloop Island and Isle au Haut:

And this coming week will find me along one side of the bay, participating in a group art exhibit at the Islesboro Historical Society. I hope to have some painting time on the island as well as several days of gallery-sitting with some of the other painters in the show (we are planning many games of Scrabble, needless to say). I have paintings in several locations around Maine right now, and am happy to report they are actually selling, imagine such a thing.

At the moment I am packing and looking askance at the ever-growing pile of stuff I must somehow fit into our car tomorrow morning. My, it's a lot. Paintings, packing materials, luggage, food, art supplies, easels, tools, a few books even. I idly wonder if packing the car will require a greater grasp of physics than that which I currently possess... tomorrow will tell. Be back in a week or so - wishing everyone some wonderful summer days involving lots of beach reading.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


A midsummer lull

One of the most beautiful weeks of summer and here I am indoors, recovering from a cold. I couldn't do much of anything this past week except blow my nose and read - a strange combination of misery and happiness. My attention span was that of a gnat so I chose comforting books with lots of pictures. Specifically, old-favorite art books, because I seem to be languishing in one of those mercifully brief periods during which my own paintings appear difficult and pitiful. I looked at books about some of my heroes, to remind myself what can happen when you stick to your chosen profession for your entire life. If you're any good, and much more importantly, if you have the will and means to paint all your life, you could become your own version of Fairfield Porter, or Rockwell Kent, or Edward Hopper. (At least this is what I tell myself, to lift my spirits.) Speaking of Hopper, an exhibit of Hopper's work in Maine has just opened at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and I am wild to go see it. In Robert Henri's classic book The Art Spirit he could almost be speaking of his student Hopper when he says (p.86):

"Is it not fine to see the development of oneself? The finding of one's own tastes. The final selection of a most favorite theme; the concentration of all one's forces on that theme; its development; the constant effort to find its clearest expression in the chosen medium; an effort of expression which commenced with the beginning of the idea, and follows its progress step by step, becoming a technique born of the theme itself and special to it. The continuation through years, new elements entering as life goes on, each step differing, yet all the same. A simple theme on which a life is strung."

One of Hopper's great themes, quoted somewhere in one of the books I have about him and his work, was the subject of sunlight on the side of a house. How beautifully simple, yet how complex in both execution and meaning, and how many variations he found to paint over the course of his life. Most heartening, and just what I needed to hear during this minor midsummer slough of despond. (Atchoo.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


In search of luminosity

Last week I returned from a Maine island sojurn. Every year at this time I head out to sea, to rent a little cabin at the edge of the woods on a small family island in Penobscot Bay. No electricity, no phone, no running water, no problem! This year, instead of staying for a week as I usually do, I was there for twelve days. I painted like mad, created many landscapes full of sun and fog, and the one truly sopping rainy day when I couldn't be outside, I set up indoors and tinkered with all the paintings that needed a bit more work. The days were long and luminous and I could hardly bear to go indoors at all. I'd run in and make a sandwich and run back out. When I did go in, here is what I saw - oil lamps, an old white dresser, the stack of books I brought with me, including the usual suspects (Sarah Orne Jewett, Raymond Carver, Mary Oliver):

Turn and look the other way and there are some of my paintings leaning up on chairs to dry, and the woodstove, which is a godsend on the few particularly damp and chilly evenings:

When I wasn't painting, or writing in my journal, I could be found (if there was anyone to find me, which there wasn't) sitting at the very end of one of the rocky overlooks, gazing out at miles of sea, islands, mainland, and sunset. Sunsets here often last three or four hours, this time of year. At six o'clock they consider beginning, and the water looks like this:

How to paint that, I wonder. An hour or two later the sun tips itself over the mountains, and the seals on those ledges out there in the middle of the water talk the whole thing over (I listen in):

Well after nine the sunsets still linger, a cadmium red deep in the clouds off over the mainland. Unphotographable, by me at least. Dark finally, I head back to the cabin, then the stars come out and I walk out yet again to see them, and their earthbound counterparts, the fireflies, hovering over the island meadows.

I come home with my finished paintings and look at them back in the studio, and if I'm lucky and have observed closely and paid attention as well as I'm able, my paintings will have glimmers of all this available luminosity. This year, it was tough. Many of them clunk in shadow instead of singing with light. But even then, it's worth it, this island time. I still get to be in the light myself, even if I can't pack it up and bring it home with me. I wouldn't have it any other way. As Raymond Carver says in Where Water Comes Together with Other Water (p.81, from the poem Tomorrow):

"My bowl is empty. But it's my bowl, you see,
and I love it."

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