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dualitiesDualities are contrasting concepts that may be seen as opposites, yet also as parts of a whole. Day/night, young/old, male/female, birth/death--all are pairs that actually complement each other to form a complete idea or cycle. It can be said that one does not exist without the other, that they are interdependent and meaningless individually without their counterparts. And while we may personally prefer one aspect of a duality over another, not acknowledging its opposite undermines a wholistic view of life and acceptance of what is. (I'm adding what I see as an exception to this idea at the end of the post.)
An Ancient Conversation, 36"x36" oi/cold wax on panel
For years my work has had an overall softness without strong edges or lines. But now contrasting elements of light/dark value, organic/geometric shape, and calm/active textures have been growing much stronger in my work. This has happened gradually, without conscious intent, at least when it began. I've thought a lot about where this more emphatic contrast is coming from and why. The most important influence on my work--experiences and memories of wild, rugged landscapes--is still the same. But there is something new in my response to these places. I'm thinking of them in a more universal way, instead of according to particular location as in the past. At some point I realized that my overall response to them--wherever they happen to be--is consistent, and that there are certain dualities at its core. My thoughts and feelings about being in wild and rugged places are complex, and this makes these places compelling to me beyond their visual beauty. So I think there is a connection, between these dualities and the greater contrast I'm bringing to my work--a new alignment of form and content.
Benwee Head, Co Mayo, Ireland
Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo, Ireland
An interesting thing I've noticed in the past about being in wild places is the calm and quiet they can bring to the soul, even though they tend to be dramatic, very active places (at least the ones I love best). The wind may be howling and the surf crashing but inside there is peace. I think my interest in dualities started with that realization, and it's been percolating ever since. It may well be the root of my need to express something new in my work--the drama as well as the subtlety and quiet. Over time I've become aware of other dualities in my experience of wild places. Even though they may seem on the surface like contradictions, in fact they offer a sense of unity that can be profound. For example, I often feel a split in my sense of self when I'm alone in nature. I feel insignificant, a tiny speck in the vast spaces around me, yet in some mystical way I'm also connected with the land at my core. Both perceptions seem equally true and expand the experience in powerful ways.
Northern New Mexico
Another kind of duality has to do with my shifting sense of human frailty and vulnerability. I may fully acknowledge the danger of descending a steep, rocky hillside alone, for example, while at the same time my mind is completely, calmly at ease. The risks I sometimes take in remote places are part of fully engaging with my surroundings and not holding back out of fear. Of course, the other side of this duality is basic common sense. While I sometimes push the limits, I also recognize that the forces of nature and the laws of gravity care nothing about my need for adventure. Perhaps at its core this duality is about being both inside and outside of my physical self. Contrasts of inside/ outside also happen with thoughts and feelings. No matter what the surroundings, at times I slip away from being fully present. Like many people, I can easily become pre-occupied with thoughts of everyday life. On a spectacular rugged shoreline in Ireland, I might be wondering whether I'd answered an email or if I needed to stop at the store. Yet whatever is running around in my head will shift abruptly the second I return my attention fully to the landscape. In that abrupt transition the beauty of my surroundings will stun me and hold me completely-- until the next random thought worms its way into my brain. The dichotomy between inner and outer worlds puts human trivia in stark contrast to nature's power. But such moments make me feel grateful to be alive, monkey-mind and all. I'm sure that many people who love nature experience this and other dualities; they create a fascination that pulls us back again and again. And finally, there are dichotomies within nature itself--its wildness and gentleness, strength and frailty, the light and dark, the macrocosm and the microcosm. The beauty and power of nature encompasses all of these aspects and more, and they inform my work alongside with my more personal responses and memories.
Memory and Presence 40"x30" oil/cold wax on panel
Addditional notes: I mentioned in the first paragraph that I can think of certain concepts or realities that do not seem to require an opposite for completion. Perhaps it's idealistic of me, but I believe they are singular and complete in themselves. These include love, truth, goodness, trust, peace. I'm sure there are more.
I also invite you to read a recent blog post by my friend Janice Mason Steeves, who also loves and is nurtured by wild places. Click here for her post, which inspired me to write about my own response to wild places. This video shows me working on the painting above, Memory and Presence.