When I decided to give painting my full time attention I was well into my forties and had been a traditional chairmaker for ten years before that, in addition to a dozen different jobs and professions, so that when it came time to unveil the first batch of work at my show in 2001 I felt the need to help bring along my craft show patrons and friends, who never knew me as an artist…to go some way towards explaining the radical shift from woodworking tools, et al, to brushes and oil paints. So I wrote down some thoughts to go along with each painting and hung them off to the side.
There was some good response so that when, a month later, my work was accepted to show at the Granary Gallery I asked if they might also like the painter’s notes. Chris Morse, the gallery owner, said sure but he confessed to be not quite certain what to do with them so I assembled them into a folder which he put out for the viewers to look at casually should they be interested in more info.
I admit some naivite at the time and over the years these painter’s notes have been waved away by other gallery owners as not appropriate and on one occasion I was personally chastised by a critic for what he called the “conceit” of “writing poetry” to go along with my paintings.
Oh well…what helped me to get over that poke in the eye was the overwhelmingly positive response from the Granary’s patrons and staff and, for what it’s worth, I have continued to write.
After 9 years and over 200 paintings I have lightened them up some and see them more as journal entries that are there to add another layer to the work and the gallery keeps a notebook of the complete collection for those rainy day visitors to browse.
On my website you can navigate from the Portfolio page and browse through the paintings, sorted by year, open a thumbnail and scroll down to the logo on the bottom left (seen above) and click on the quill to open each paintings’ notes.
Got me thinking of all this because I am sitting here in the air-conditioned studio escaping the 90 degree afternoon heat and writing up this year’s painter’s notes. Some ponderous reflection made me pull up the very first one I wrote back in the Spring of 2000. Here is a look …
A sacred place.
On a great measure of bluff overlooking Squibnocket Point
there is a century old chicken coop become camp cabin.
Outside, the seagulls rise on the warming October air and cry out over the persistent sound of the ocean swells. The rust and sienna and gold of the late season meadow is accented with tiny red specks of newly opened bittersweet. There are long shadows and down along the stone wall the deer have settled into their beds of bracken and cattails hidden behind the grapevines.
I have spent a hundred evenings on the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Familiar with the darkening shapes of rabbits coming out to find their supper of greens, beacons from the West Chop light house signaling brighter on the horizon, the milky way preparing for
its spectacle, and the magic of sparks arcing into the night wind
as the logs are emptied from the too smoky fireplace.
Inside on this evening with lobster pots and wine glasses stacked in the porcelain kitchen sink, the dog walked one last time and the candles gently blown out, we retire to our cubby hole of a bed.
When the last light of the reading lamp goes out there is an indigo blackness, a ghostly breeze lifting the curtain from the sliding window, and a stillness broken only by the rhythm of the waves.
So named almost a century ago by Grandma Sophie for the spectacular sunrises which grace this edge of the planet. It is a humbling moment to stand on that bluff with the Atlantic ocean before you and all of the continent behind and watch the sun break over that horizon.
I confess to having witnessed more sunsets than sunrises
and covet the cool crisp sheets of the morning.
It was on such a morning that I awoke to a mysterious light.
The center of my waking world was awash in firelight.
The door alongside the bed was opened to the bathroom.
Herself had placed a small candle in the sink while I slept.
The interior of this cabin is painted white at the beginning of the season every other year or so. There have been great Nor’easters weathered there when I believed that it was only those thick
layers of paint which held the walls and roof together.
The orange light of this morning’s candle was alive and dancing across that whitened wood.
The brilliant blue square of the bathroom window had long been a subject in waiting and
I had done sketches and taken photographs for a decade in anticipation of capturing that scene.
But it wasn’t until that moment, when the echo of her spirit was reflected in the worn surfaces of the enamel and dawn, that I found the way in to the heart of this painting.
The advice to writers is to write of what you know.
I believe that is true for artists.
I paint of the Vineyard to testify and to claim and to hold tight to that sacred piece of the planet.
Because I have been there,
and I know what it feels like to drown.