The meaning of a word -to me- is not exact as the meaning of a color. Colors and shapes make a more definite statement than words." Georgia O'Keefe, 1976.
A dear friend and neighbor gave me a beautiful book of quotes by Georgia O'Keefe for Christmas. WORDS AND WORKS really spoke to me. I often speak about which comes first, the word or picture of a story. They are in partnership more often than we know. Often I have to paint a picture two or three times so that I know it is telling the story in my mind. Sometimes I can't articulate the story until it sits in front of me.
In CRANE WOMAN, the painting shown above, patterns needed to show me a heavy settling of cold air. The colors needed to be earthy and subdued. Winter is coming too early on the tundra. In one version the birds I made were flying in a dynamic pattern, but these birds, even though migrating south, are patterned in the weight of the air. They needed to be contained by both color and shape.
Like much of the world, I have been captivated by O'Keefe's work as she leads us into a stillness of enlarged shapes…sun, flowers, skulls and clouds, and into deeper thoughts.
One of my favorite songs is from Jimmy Buffet’s album “License to Chill.” It rings true every time I hear it, and every time I hear it - it bears a slightly different message. The song is called, "Life is Simply Complicated." The lyrics that make me laugh go like this:
Now I’m having a big problem with my present day career;
My ship, she has a rudder, but she don’t know where to steer.
Am I country, pop or rock’ n’roll?
I know they are related.
I’ll just let you be the judge.
It’s simply complicated.
Life is complicated with its if’s and and’s and buts.
It’s alright to be crazy...just don’t let it drive you nuts!
If I had a ship, I would name it CHASING WONDER. Lately that is what I have been doing, and I find myself painting the same scene over and over again, the same coffee cup in different light, or mystical birds witnessing the end of winter as a woman brings spring to their land. The theme that runs true through all of the images is that there was something I saw, either in my head or in one of those coffee cups that made me feel a sense of ahhh! which is such a childlike delight.
I am starting to understand a little more why artists, musicians, and writers pursue similar themes over and over again. They are chasing wonder, whether it is Diebenkorn continually examining his subjects through abstract expressionism, or Van Gogh’s turbulence of brush strokes as he repeatedly painted sunflowers, rooms, and himself, or Pat Conroy writing his fascination/obsession with his family and the south into so many wonderful novels.
There are many subjects I return to, over and over...Sonoma County mountains. birds, and I continue to return to my childhood fascination with reflections...in still water, shiny ceramics and metal. They bring to me the sense of wonder I had as a child when I realized that a muddy puddle could transform itself into a sepia-toned mirror of sky and trees. To make it better a puddle has it’s own edges so the picture is framed. Recently I finished AUTUMN, which is a painting of our drainage ditch after the leaves started falling. I loved the image but want to do it again. This time to capture less leaves and a time of day, next time to capture something else. It is the same puddle I must have passed by a lifetime ago in a different spot while growing up, and whenever it reappears, I feel that sense of wonder once again. I will continue to paint that scene as long as leaves float in water, I’m sure.
As artists we are often encouraged to brand ourselves, to stick with one genre of art to make ourselves known and sellable. But lately, as I steer my ship between these ways of expressing myself, I somehow know that I am always chasing wonder.
If you would like to read earlier installments of Painting The Sky, you can find them here.