In 1878, Robert Louis Stevenson walked 120 miles in central France with a donkey by the name of Modestine. He sketched, took photographs and wrote Travels With A Donkey in the Cevennes. My friend Robin and I are hiking it again.
The wind is keen, the air fresh. It’s cold this time of year so the painting generally takes place near the middle of the day. Right now we’re at a considerable altitude sheltering under a copse of gorse looking east toward the hills of Gevauden. Patterns of fallow and seeded fields lead quilt-like through the aerial perspective to a large flock of sheep moving like a spill of cream on the sparse hillside beyond. Somewhere below, cowbells mix their notes with a distant church.
I know it’s all very personal — every artist has his own way. I hate to admit it but I spend some time looking for things to inflict my style on. I also keep in mind that what I choose to paint does not have to look like the immediate scene. Often it’s simply intuition that tells me where to stop — a feeling, a presence. I use the rule of 360 — slowly rotating myself through the compass, framing, re-framing, in order to see a variety of possibilities. More often than not what I choose to paint is not what attracted me in the first place. This one will be a pastiche. I settle in. A silver groundsheet reflects a bit of the sun’s heat. Fromage, saucisse, baguette. I squeeze out my acrylics: Titanium white, Ultramarine blue, Cadmium red, Alizarin crimson, Naples yellow, Jenkins green, Ivory black. Basic. I’m working on a clear-acrylic primed mahogany panel. When I pick up the brush and put down the first stroke I get a repeat of an image that has haunted me all my life — a déja vu sort of flash that I’m a hunter in the field — only this hunter always bags at least something, often a modest something, and he always leaves everything just the way it was.
“For my part I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)