Two kayakers take particular interest in the operation of the floating easel. Brothers Karl and Guenter Schuerer have been on the Mackenzie and it’s tributaries for three months. Grey-bearded and bronzed, these are seasoned river-men who have shaken off their bindings in Bremen in exchange for a life of adventure in a wild and challenging land. Their folding boats are masterworks of neatness and organization — they have to be — they must explore efficiently.
It’s something to do with the acceptability of change. In the floating easel work can take place during purposeful movement. The landscape and its various motifs unfold so there is not the inclination for one particular view. The essentials must be photographed quickly with the mind’s eye, for the next time you look up what you think you saw has changed. I think we may be on to something here.
The system helps me with what artists have traditionally called “the big picture” — the simplification of complexity. As I paint in the bow of the Alexander Mackenzie, slowly powered forward by Sara at the helm, I’m beginning to think that what I do back in the studio is too fussy and constipated. I’m not saying these Mackenzie paintings are masterpieces, but they are a direction. When it’s Sara’s turn to paint she mentions the calming satisfaction of doing one thing while accomplishing another.
The last time we saw the brothers Schuerer they had drawn their tiny craft on a beach at the foot of a great mountain. “We are going up,” Karl shouted across the rumbling river. He pointed to the top. When I’m painting again I’m thinking something about efficient brushwork — meaningful, cursive stroking that gets to the point.
PS: “Change everything, except your passions.” (Voltaire)
“Efficiency of a practically flawless kind may be reached naturally. But there is something beyond — a higher point, a subtle and unmistakable touch of love and pride beyond mere skill, almost an inspiration which gives to all work that finish which is almost art — which is art.” (Joseph Conrad)
Esoterica: In The Underpainter, Jane Urquhart says that her artist must stop in order to paint; a writer must stop talking in order to write. Sara and I are wondering what others might have to say about producing while on the move.
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
Gets a bang out of driving
by Chris, Ohio
I have often gotten my best inspiration and clearest mental organization on long drives. I’m far from the only one that does this. If you shut off the radio and the music, you have to pay a little attention to the road — the best time and place for this is on the great American plains in the wee small hours, like across the bleak heart of Texas or the flatness of Kansas, for example, two or three in the morning — and your hands are occupied so they can’t wander to some distraction, likewise your eyes. After while, drifting along hearing the hum of the tires, occupied just to the level where distraction is impossible, you can collect yourself, shuffle thru all the images and half-built structures, line up the known facts and locate the holes. It’s really mechanized meditation, nearly as pure as I think it’s possible to achieve. Lying in the hospital after a near-fatal injury, steeped in morphine, I was able to achieve some shocking clarity and astonishing clean-slate mental states that have had lasting value, but I don’t recommend the method. Driving is easier, and as I said, almost as pure. I said the injury was near fatal. Actually, for a few minutes it was completely fatal. The moment of death, the transition, there’s where everything really becomes clear. We don’t realize the millions of tiny conflicts we have inside us, always — tiny troubles like schools of minnows inside. In death those just dissolve, leaving a peace so sweet and soft it far overwhelms any clumsy attempt I might make to describe it.
(RG note) Perhaps the car works in the same way as the “mmm” based hum of a trancendental meditation mantra. Stuff seems to bubble up from the subconscious—stuff you didn’t know was there.
by Warren Criswell
All things change, even passions. And in a sense we are all “producing on the move,” even if we’re holed up in a studio.
It is another “sparkling” day here in Cobble Hill, the sun is lower these days, creating different light effects and casting longer shadows that reminds one of the fall days ahead. It seems to me that it is this exact time of year when I feel a perfection around me. While the flowers and plants are reaching the pinnacle of their growth cycle, almost showing a bit leggy and with seed pods forming, they all seem to be reaching their self-fulfillment. It is this entelechy that I speak of that I feel and sense all around me. This sensation suddenly arrives just like that first gust of cold wind that announces a shift towards the fall equinox.
This time of year I have a yearning. I used to think it was September that I longed for, the time of “return to school”, that start of the fall season. Typically this longing begins in August and along with it feelings of excitement like butterflies stirring in my stomach. There is a feeling of change and of something new about to happen that comes with it. Now I recognize that this sensation I have is connected directly to this perfection I sense all around me; it is this movement towards potential; it is this vital force that surrounds and flows through me.
(RG note) ‘Entelechy’ is the being or becoming actual of what was once only a potential.
by Elle Fagan
My father passed away last spring after a long and difficult illness, and this year has been a combination of rest from the exhaustion and observation of grief and grief recovery… I was warned it would show in the artwork… a struggle to keep the light touch while he was ailing, and a dive to passionate depths I did not know existed in watercolor when he passed… but there was also gratitude and celebration for his release from suffering, and the satisfaction of seeing the healing of the spirit in the improvement of the work…my energy refunded, and life back to normal… they told me to stay into truth, express it so that someone besides yourself will want to get into it…
There is no answer… seek it lovingly.
Bumps and all
by Cassandra James, Texas, USA
Yes, yes, yes! I just returned from a month long road trip — 7500 miles — and the best part about it was drawing in the car — can’t be too fussy — bumpy roads, pen flying, memory tested by changing forms. The trick is certainly to translate this freshness to the studio work.
by Athina Pazolli
When I travel I am a different person. I am less encumbered by the everyday. That freer feeling has to have an effect on the painting — making it less fussy.
Be about paint
by Phil Carroll
I find it interesting that you have mentioned that your studio paintings seem sterile while the freedom and freshness you find painting in the out of doors does not translate to the studio work. It was a problem of mine as well to capture the flow and freedom of the medium in and out of the studio. The solution I find is not in the subject, that is just the jumping off point, that is what inspires us to paint. The freedom is in the paint; one must become the paint, so to speak, feeling it flow through the end of the brush. It’s all about the paint and how one manipulates it. For many years I painted painstakingly photo–realisticly taking months to develop one painting. The subject matter was a bit odd but just the same realistic. They dubbed me a surrealist. Now I can paint 7 or 8 paintings when need be in about a month and they call me a photo-realist. The paintings are free and fresh, they are about the subject but the ebb and flow of this fresh approach makes them more realistic, they are fun and colorful and my audience has happily responded . So my advice is be about paint and not about subject, “as the abstract painter considers the realist painter to be the abstract painter and himself the realist because he deals realistically with the paint and does not try to transform it into something that it is not.” — Jimmy Leuders, PAFA
by Carol Allison
You reminded me of some advice a painter gave me long ago. In his later years he was doing large symphonic works in the studio from his field document drawings and watercolor sketches. His early work was mostly rapid watercolor landscapes done in one or two sittings. He said he couldn’t be doing the later, large studio paintings, without the experience of the many rapid watercolor sketches he had done in his youth. He said he had a very “don’t care” attitude about these, but I thought they were brilliant (well drawn and in tone) obviously put down in the blot method recommended by English painter Alfred Rich.
Contributed by Tania J Bourne, Victoria, B.C., Canada
“Creativity occurs in an act of encounter and is to be understood with this encounter as its center.”
You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since March 30, 2000.
That includes Norah Borden who told me that painting and traveling are her two greatest passions, and Elle Fagan who wrote as a postscript “to heal, to elate, to correct and adjust the self, to be courageous, to trust… the Artist has options for these that others do not.”
And Sheila Fray who wrote, “I lack the courage of you and the ‘Bremen Brothers’ — I think courage is easier if it comes in pairs.”