In mid-March, as the pandemic set in and caused the cancellation of my exhibition in New York City, I sought distraction and solace at one of my favorite painting spots, Northwest Bay Brook, north of Bolton Landing. I was able to lose myself in my work that day and comfort came from witnessing the rhythmical patterns within the seemingly chaotic natural forces. But as I developed a large painting inspired by the scene, I recognized a need to build into it a delicate balance between the threat of things falling apart and the pleasure of things pulling together as a whole.
That day the parking lot was very full, overflowing onto both sides of the road as many hikers were also using Nature to do their social distancing. Heading away from the trails toward the stream, I brought canvases and sketch pads of several sizes and proportions, not knowing what would inspire me. I was curious to see how much water was flowing with the spring runoff. What struck me first had little to do with the lively flow. A very long tree trunk bridged the stream at a height that suggested it had been carried there in a flash flood before getting wedged in tightly, perpendicular to the flow. I realized fairly quickly that I would build the composition around that pale linear form. Something about the stranded trunk resonated with my own sense of time suspended by COVID-19. There were reverberations of both sudden catastrophe and the regular flow of natural forces. If the water were to suddenly return to the tree’s level, I would have been under water.
I started with several days of painting at the spot on sunny days and then worked long days in the studio for the next week or so. I took a break while I figured out how to finish it. Unable to return to the stream with non-essential travel curtailed, I worked from memory, photographs, a knowledge of what natural forms look like, and ideas about what makes a compelling image.
In late April I spent two days making some important adjustments to bring emphasis to the suspended log and the spinning of the whole space, not just the water. I kept adjusting the peripheral elements that had been bothering me, that didn’t contribute to the whole painting. The play between clarity and ambiguity has always interested me and as I worked, I kept in mind my desire to express the delicate balance between order and chaos as well as my increasing interest in reflecting a de-stabilized world. One of the changes was to reduce the heaviness of the recently darkened cliffs on the left with adjusted angles and lightened tones to merge with the water while leading the eye downstream. As an experiment, on the right I added shapes of light branches a bit closer to the cliffs to make a visual bridge. Suddenly there was a visual spinning in the air above the water. I hadn’t known that was what was needed.
Working on the painting during the pandemic certainly pushed me both deliberately and intuitively to express the dialogue between seeming chaos and order. Nature provides both and each creates energy. Future works will likely be more reflective of that dialogue, which may not always be in balance.
The finished painting, In Suspension : March-April 2020, 24×48″ can be seen as part of the online art exhibition that is part of Responding II