“just passing through”

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.” 

― George Harrison

A painting tells a story. Sometimes it is evident, spelled out and irrefutable. Sometimes it is uncertain, questionable and up to the observer to try and figure it out. And sometimes it is both. A painting that on the surface seems straightforward but reads much deeper once you have studied it for a while.

I always go into a painting wanting to tell a story. The story is most always about what is happening to the sky or the land at that very moment and the feeling that it conveys. Sometimes it’s about the drama and sometimes it’s about the peacefulness. Sometimes it’s about lightness and joy and sometimes it’s serious and a little bit melancholy. But more often times than not, as I am painting, a different sort of story develops than the one I started with. This story is like an undercurrent running alongside the more visible storyline. It is the emotional side of painting, the “me” that I put into a painting. A little bit of my story.

The interesting thing about this is, the more personal a painting is to me, the more personal it becomes to others. Putting my emotions, whatever they may be, into my work seems to establish some sort of connection to other people and in turn, they are able to put their own story to my painting. Their story may end up completely unrelated to my story but the important thing is, that they feel “something” and want to make it a part of the painting.

When I started “just passing through”, I was most interested in the warm, bright light of the setting sun on the sand and trees in the distance. My secondary interest was the water winding it’s way through the painting. I liked that aspect of the composition but that wasn’t the most important element to me.

Paintings never “paint themselves” … even the easier ones still take a lot of effort, thought and decision making. This one went along fairly smoothly until the end. The foreground which is mostly water, was giving me such trouble. I kept trying to put more “stuff” in…. mud, grasses, shadows, currents, etc. I must have painted and repainted it a dozen times. Nothing I did looked right or felt like it should be there.

Finally, one morning I sat down and just observed my painting for about thirty minutes. Really looked at it. I thought about the path of that water. How it starts out and works it’s way along the marsh, spilling into low lying areas as it works it’s way from the ocean into a smaller creek. As it steadily winds its way through, the water becomes less about the energy and more about the calm, less about the bright reflections and more about the rich color and low light in the shadows. Persistence and energy becomes yielding and acceptance. At that instant, I knew that the water in the foreground needed to find that stillness, that simplicity, that richness, that peace. So I wiped it out once again and repainted it.

I realized as I worked to finish it that subconsciously, I had been working out the path that my mother and I have been on for several years now with her Alzheimers. All of the energy it has taken, the twists and turns and all the mud that clouded our way. I had been fighting that still water, wanting to make it more than it was instead of accepting the peace and beauty that comes in the shadows. For me, this painting is not just about the bright light anymore, it’s more about the passage of water and how it pulls us down a path that may not be the easiest one but one that leads us toward the calm stillness of acceptance and peace. And within that space of calmness, when the tide reverses and it is time to change, we can find the hope and the energy to flow again back towards the light.

“just passing through” 40″ x 60″ oil on canvas

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I am a landscape painter living and painting on the Georgia coast. Painting and writing is a way to reach out and share my observations, my experiences and my inspirations with you. It is how I tell my story and the story of the wild, beautiful landscape where I live.

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