Sunday, August 26, 2018

Dawn Whispers Her Silver Secrets (oil on canvas, 2018)

Last week my son and I, along with a couple of friends, ventured deep into Baxter State Park for some cliff jumping at Upper South Branch Pond. It was quite a trek out to the location, beginning with a two-hour drive to the park gate, followed by a 10 mile drive on a dirt road at 20 mph and then a short hike to the edge of the lake where canoes are available to rent for $1 per hour. The four of us got into a single canoe and paddled across Lower South Branch Pond (a misnomer – it's really a lake). We then had to portage the canoe about a quarter of a mile to Upper South Branch Pond (The two bodies of water are connected by a narrow, waterway which is usually too shallow for passage by canoe.) and then paddle about half a mile out to the cliffs. We had gone out to the same location last year, but the conditions were not very favorable. The water temperature was about 50 degrees (Quite a shock for me when I tried swimming in it!) and heavy winds and dark cloud cover portended an imminent thunderstorm and made visibility below the surface of the water near impossible. Needless to say, we decided to abandon any idea of cliff jumping.

This year, however, the unusually warm weather we've been having all summer had rendered the water the perfect temperature for swimming and the clouds that seemed to follow us all morning cleared off as soon as we arrived at our final destination. The cliff wall rises straight up 40 feet out of the 80 foot deep water with great launch spots at various heights. The mountain water was crystal clear and looking down after jumping in from one of the lower spots, I could see the rock fade from light tan to black as it disappeared into the abyss below. None of us was willing to attempt a leap from the 40 foot height, which would have required a running start to clear the rocks (Actually, my 14-year-old son was quite keen to jump from there but I convinced him not to!) but we each made several jumps from a 20 foot height. All in all, it was great fun, and you may be wondering what any of this has to do with painting.

Standing on a rocky cliff 20 feet above what appears to be a deep, dark, bottomless water-filled abyss and looking down with the intent to jump in is quite an experience which produced, in me anyway, no small amount of fear and apprehension (Deep, dark water has always been one of my greatest fears.) and I was immediately reminded of the feeling I get every time I embark on a new painting.

Making art, at least the way I do it, requires a leap of faith into the unknown and, just like you had better know how to swim if you're going to jump off of a cliff, you had better have command of your materials and the language of visual form if you hope to pull off a successful painting. I'm a strong swimmer and I knew I wasn't going to hit any rocks or run into any large, flesh-eating sea creatures below the surface, but none of that lessened the fear that I felt in that moment when my feet were about to leave terra firma and become subject to the whims of gravity as I plunged into the depths where light and air don't exist.

I face a similar fear regularly in my studio and, even though I've made dozens and dozens of quite successful paintings, I've produced my fair share of complete and utter failures. But the fear doesn't stop me from working. We face our fears and we jump. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only way to really live a meaningful life.