I love to make paintings. It is exhilarating and dangerous to do. That makes me feel super alive. People might love it, reject it, or worse, ignore it when they see my work. When I am painting it is because I see something, usually the landscape, that inspires me to put color on canvas to ultimately speak to other human beings about something rather miraculous that I keep seeing - the very fact of our existence, and the existence of the world and beyond. When painting goes well, I feel a clean flow of energy from my body through the paint to the canvas. Hours go by and then I am suddenly done, I have said all I can say. I put my tools away, carry the painting home and leave it to dry a while, then one day I bring it to you, as you see it now.
The mobile buzzed, the tide was going out, and I still wanted to make it home to dinner. I had some pink not pink going in for the trees on the far shore of the tidal river close to the reversing falls that I needed to get right. The sun and clouds were moving (don’t they always?) which means I had to work fast to get that moment that would make this painting sing. Spruces and aspen trees stayed put, as they should, so they went in quickly. Below me the water tingled and sparkled daring me to paint it this way, so I did. It was ex-hilarating, exhausting, and totally what I love do-ing.
We arrive mid-afternoon. The unpacking and setting up begins at the Roaring Brook lean-to. My friends are beginning to unwind, I am getting wound. This is the good stuff. I grab my gear and leave the scene at a fast pace for Blueberry Knoll, one of my favorite places to paint in Maine. Time will be tight to pull this off. Probably about one and a half hours later I put up my easel and point toward the Great Basin, an old glacial cirque, and begin to put color to the canvas. At first, just before the blue line drawing is started, a swirl of ideas and possibilities crowds my vision. Then clarity comes. The idea of this shape, that ravine, an edge of the skyline undeniably presents itself and I begin. This is how it goes. It is intense, focused (sometimes I have to leave in a hurry if I don’t see the moose until the last minute), and such an excellent moment to be alive. Then just as suddenly three hours have passed. The painting is done. I am done. I need to race down the trail to make it to dinner (before it is all gone). The light is fading now too. As I arrive the lanterns are lit and I am good, again.
I like to paint on site. When looking at your subject an incredible amount of information is available that you can put into your painting. I’ve heard it called working directly, and that my paintings are very direct. OK, good enough. What does that mean? It can be very simple, or it can be a lot of different things. Let me tell you about a painting trip.
I like painting at Katahdin Lake in Baxter State Park, here in Maine. Frederick Church and Marsden Hartley liked painting at Katahdin Lake, long before it was Baxter State Park. They were good painters. The massif we know as Katahdin is very much in the view from many spots on the lake. In the years 2005 and 2006, I joined many other artists and donors and gave a painting to help raise money to purchase the land around Katahdin Lake for $14 million and donate it to Baxter State Park. This fulfilled the dream that Governor Baxter had to include the lake in the park’s holdings. What a thrill it was for me to be a part of that.
I painted at Katahdin Lake and surrounding area for about 10 years after that purchase effort. One year I went with a friend to the Twin Ponds near Katahdin Lake. That trip included the 3-1/2 mile hike into Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps. My friend and I then took a canoe ride for several miles across Katahdin Lake to the north-east corner, which in itself was a fabulous trip. Then we hiked about another 3 miles near and through the now Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument to the Twin Ponds. After this long journey carrying our gear, we arrived at the shoreline of upper Twin Pond looking up at a terrific view of a ridge and some rocky cliffs. We quickly went to work, and each made two small studies of what we saw. We were both excited and totally inspired. This feeling of sparkle and buzz for me happens best after a journey like this to get to someplace unique. It’s not just that we’re away from civilization and all its constructs. More importantly it’s about being immersed in the full energy of the natural world. Many artists, poets, and writers have responded to that same feeling. That is direct connection. My paintings are always better for it.
On our way home that day we saw an amazing view of the sun as it traversed across the peak of Katahdin and the clouds made the mountain look like it was some sort of volcano that was actively erupting. That kind of direct experience gives me everything I need to make paintings.
I’ve got to go outside. It’s one of those days in late September in Maine. OH my gosh! It feels like a giant just spritzed me with a lemon and another one peeled a monster orange and dropped the sections all around. Then there is the fresh peach ice cream…so, I set my easel up and begin to paint, frantically. I can’t make the brush work fast enough to get it ALL in, but I am sure going to try. I start laughing, the whole thing is so spectacular. Of course the sun is racing across the sky (which is the MOST beautiful Manganese blue I have ever seen). The canvas is super smooth, so my paint slides across it brilliantly, the canvas is now painting itself. I think I am sweating, I know there is turpentine in the air. The Maple trees grounding the whole thing almost smile back at me making their portrait. Yes, they do smile on the canvas I see with great arcs of cadmium red, yellow and orange. Suddenly, it is as if one if the giants gently pulls me away from the easel and whispers “ it’s done”, and so I am.