sense of place
An interesting idea came out of a conversation I had a while back with painter Mark Russell
, about describing work that is abstracted from the landscape. He commented that he found it better to say that his work was about “place” rather than “landscape.” I liked that…there are so many preconceived ideas that come into play with the word landscape
is open-ended, and can more easily encompass personal and emotional responses.
Mark said in a recent email discussion about this, "Being involved and immersed in a place
brings inspiration and meaning more than inspiration from a pretty scene
and trying to copy that scene for the sake of a beautiful painting."
I would describe much of my own work as being about the memory and emotion of place. And there seem to be only certain kinds of places that move me, no matter how scenic by most measures. Yesterday I walked in Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, surrounded by vibrant spring colors, dense textures of foliage and flowers, and a vast variety of plant forms. It was all astonishingly gorgeous, and I took lots of photos, yet I knew that what I was seeing was unlikely to lead to any paintings. My emotions were peaceful, and pleasant, and my eyes delighted…but I don’t expect the experience to influence my work. Too tame, somehow…and too green and lush. Which is fine—it was relaxing to just wander and appreciate, without seeing paintings everywhere.
On the other hand, the pock-marked sandstone, gray sea, the rough bark of the cedar trees and the weathered driftwood that I have been looking at for the past week of my stay in British Columbia have made the kind of impression that is quite likely to find its way into my painting. I am drawn to places that are subtle in color, and untamed in feeling and mysterious in depth, like the dense forests here.
I’m talking to my students this week about knowing what moves them, what attracts them, as a path to personal voice. The more I travel and stay in different places, the more I understand this for myself. The subtleties of place that work on my memory and feelings.