Wet Canvas Dreams

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

God is in the MidWest. Or at least in the Details.

Six paintings I painted yesterday. They're not finished of course, but then they never are. There will be twelve paintings in this series whenever I do finish. Twenty-four appealed but then I thought that was just being silly.

Beginning a Painting

Yellow. Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue. That's all I've used. And the white space of the canvases. Representational. Blobby shapes and outlines. Like ghostly landscapes. A hint of a field or a lake. An edge of a cloud. A structure. A wall. Stones. Maybe grasses.

What the Squinting Eye Doesn't See

If you stare at the land in the Midwest, it blurs into a unit of landscape. Lacking the drama of the coasts and the mountains, so much of the colors are demarcated by knowledge. The brain knows the pink flowers of the Eastern Redbud, and the gray-black bark of the Black Walnut and the shape of the wonderful broad leaf of the Ginkgo. Squint your eyes and you lose these small glories. Most MidWesterners tend to never notice the Shagbark Hickory, or at least to not care about a tree of so little ornamental value.

Lost Details

So does the artist paint such landscapes close up, featuring details instead of scenes? The scenes are mostly small hills or flat plains. With a town. A town from a distance is a clump of trees with two or three water towers. That the wind has battered across the plains at 25 miles per hour toward the town, is not evident in the painted scene. Only in the detail can you see the rust on the edge of the shed door. Only in the detail can you see the replicity and pattern of the leaf of the Honeylocust, and recognise its long fruit pods on the ground.

Appreciate the Details

The towns under the trees have courthouses and squares. There are unused rusted old trucks, barns still standing that have no right to be, train stations and forgotten cabooses, and elevators of age and dignity. None of these features of MidWestern landscape can be appreciated in a painted scene. They must be almost touched to see the life that has formed them. For coastal scenes and mountain scenes it is different for there god works on a grand scale with elements as sculpting tools. I drive all over these lands in search of barns, bridges, and grain bins. And then I draw. But when I place these features in a landscape it's as if I never drove at all, and these elements of MidWestern life blur into remembered puntuation.

Justice for the Midwest?

So how does an artist do justice to the landscapes of the MidWest? By not painting them? Or by somehow bringing the details of the life of land to the fore of each scene? You know how you know exactly what you want to convey, exactly what you want to paint, can see exactly how it should look when finished, and yet there you stand by your unmarked canvas, still standing there with your brush in your hand, and your paint on your palette, still standing there not moving? Alone. Again.

Paul Dorrell says:

"Dig on the old architecture, the old barns and farmhouses and train stations. Dig on the small towns, their tranquility and simplicity and on their limitations as well."


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