Recently, another artist told me that she thinks my work is about "sensory memories" of places that have affected me on an emotional level. I was impressed by this description--in all the artist's statements and blog posts I have written over the years, I have not thought this out for myself in such a concise and accurate way.
"Sensory memories" beautifully sums up the idea of a personal abstract language resulting from certain visual impressions, experienced in the context of emotional atmosphere and filtered through subjective responses. This rings true for me--moments when I am moved and visually excited by something in the landscape stay with me in a deep way, and are what I am compelled to explore in abstract terms. These moments have a special intensity or emotional charge, and come upon me in an unplanned, unexpected way when I'm alone in nature. They have a spiritual dimension in that I feel a strong connection to my surroundings. While other aspects of a landscape also impress and interest me, and provide visual ideas, it is these special moments that truly fuel my work.
For example, when I'm painting and think of my time in Ireland (a current influence on my work) my first thought is a memory of a walk I took alone on a misty evening when all the plant life was glistening with rich color up close, though hazy when seen in the distance across the foggy lake. The trees were beginning to show their autumn colors and there were brilliant yellow leaves under my feet. I felt delight, wonder, awe, energy. I took some photos and then just walked and looked. I can still remember vividly not only the visual aspects but also the smells and the feeling of the moist, cool air. This was an hour's time out of five weeks of working and traveling in Ireland, but the sensory input of the experience was so rich, and the emotional feeling so magical, that it is my primary memory of my trip. It also seems to sum up a great deal about the landscape there, to represent an essence of the textures and colors of the country as I experienced it. Several other sensory memories also stand out, of visiting megalithic sites on a rainy hillside, in awe of the ancient mysteries surrounding them, and these also become part of the mix that influence my current paintings.
Of course I have plenty of other vivid memories of my time in Ireland, as any visitor to another country does...but it's these few that feed my work in a significant way. I imagine this is a common experience among creative people, this selective sensory memory--otherwise the input would be overwhelming. Our quirky internal filters identify certain ideas, memories and experiences for our focus, and others play only supporting roles. The amazing thing is that strong sensory memories tend to capture an essence of a place or time that is truly poetic and deep, and to offer up some wonderfully rich sources for creative exploration.
The recent painting above, as yet untitled (24" square, oil and mixed media on panel) is one of a series in response to the aforementioned misty hike.