thoughts on travel
The painting above (Timanfaya #1, 12"x12") is one that I've done since returning from the island of Lanzarote just before Thanksgiving (see previous posts.) Its earthy colors and gritty texture are a direct response to my time on that volcanic island.
Before the first time I attended an artist's residency abroad (in 2001, Catalonia) I had some doubts about whether landscapes far from home would speak to me. I wondered whether impressions formed in a few weeks in a foreign country would be only superficial, and if they could lead to authentic, deeply felt paintings. At the time I had a strong sense of my home--my place--as embodied in the woods and fields where I live, and had been using my own landscape as source material for years. It's not that I didn't want to travel, but I wondered if the experience would really seem relevant to my work.
On the other hand I could easily imagine that travel combined with painting would open my eyes to the landscape in ways that shuttling through and taking a few snapshots as a tourist would not. I liked the idea of purposeful travel, of seeing new places and then processing the experience through my work. In the end, I was intrigued enough by the possibilities to apply for my first residency. This was followed by another in 2008 (also in Catalonia.) I've also traveled in England, the Western US, most recently to Lanzarote, and all of these experiences have fed my work. My next goal is an artist residency in Ireland.
A few years ago, walking on a foggy, craggy moor in central England, I had this insight: that there are many places in the landscape around the world (like that very moor) that feel like home, the true home of one's senses and feelings. This feeling of "home" is not about nationality and human culture...instead, it's about our emotional relationship with nature and the earth, and is a sense of recognition that in this kind of landscape, we belong, we feel the energy of our surroundings.
(Oddly enough, my "home" landscapes are nothing like the gentle hills of West-central Wisconsin where I actually live. Though I love it here and find it beautiful, I identify with places that are wilder, more barren, ancient feeling, dramatic, rocky and remote.)
I love what happens to my creativity when I'm in this sort of place. The landscape around me resonates with visual ideas that I'm already exploring, or that lie just under the surface of my awareness. I feel myself becoming hyper-tuned in to colors and textures around me, all the nuances of a landscape that is both new and strange, and deeply familiar. The landscape itself seems to offer validation, and the ideas and inspiration gained in such a place can carry me along for months after returning home.