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The night I came back from my month in Spain, deep in jet-lagged sleep, I had a vivid dream. It was a dream without action, plot, or characters, and only the vaguest suggestion of place. I did have the impression that I was looking out over a landscape that was mostly arid and flat, with some mountains in the distance. So it reminded me of where I had been staying in the Maragatería region of Spain, but everything was veiled in radiant light--bright and glowing faintly gold--and no features of the land were distinct. In the dream I was just being there, just looking and observing, surrounded by an atmosphere of air and light. I had a feeling of an ancient place, of simplicity, peace and spirituality. When I woke up, I knew that the dream was a gift from my subconscious--a beautiful distillation of my time in Spain. I loved that gift because re-entry into ordinary life after from a deeply experienced trip tends to be overwhelming, and when I woke up that first morning at home, I had something powerful to hold onto. It seemed to me I felt less confused than I often do in the first few days because of that. The conscious mind remembers so many events, locations, people, and visual impressions, as well as the accompanying feelings, thoughts, and ideas. That's a lot to bring home, in addition to dozens of photos, artwork, maybe a rock or two--so much to process, especially if it's left to the conscious mind. Memory(and if you're lucky, a dream) can do a better job of making sense of things.
small works on paper done in Spain: graphite, earth pigments, gouache
As well, painting intuitively, without pushing particular ideas, allows you to access your personal feeling of the essence of a place. I value the small, intuitive works on paper that I did in Spain as fragments of experience I was able to capture. They remind me of the simple buildings of the stone village, of the rugged terrain, of colors and textures of the region. But I know that for more developed work, it will take longer for the process to unfold. Over time, some memories will stand out as more meaningful, more powerful in their combination of visual impressions and emotion, and become part of my visual language. It's also true that even a very important experience may come through only in small and subtle ways, in mere glimpses of the stronger truth held inside. The dream I had about Spain was very powerful, but also ineffable; it will take time to express anything of what it offered me. Memories are a bit more accessible in the meantime. The painting below, which I finished after I got home, seems in its minimalism to embody the feeling of simplicity and calm I associate with the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, which is a constant presence in the region. I also sense the aridity of the environment and the simple geometry of many of the local buildings in this painting.
Liminal, 48x36" oil/cold wax on panel
Soon I am off to my winter home in New Mexico, to be followed by a few weeks in San Miguel Allende for teaching. There will be new influences as a result--which is good, but I worry a little about losing the the connection in my heart and mind to this special place. Yet I can't believe that my time in Spain will not shape what lies ahead in my work. It was too powerful an experience not to do so. So we'll see what evolves...
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