As we move with a wee bit of optimism into 2021, I am beginning my new year with a brand new website designed by my patient and digitally gifted son Zachary. He has been nudging me to write a blog for a least a decade now but, as I am often intimidated by the art of writing, it never seemed an easy fit. But with the pandemic pushing us towards alternative forms of communication and a quieter pace of life, it seems like the perfect time to share my thoughts on the one thing that gets me up in the morning, fills my days, and keeps me company at night — art.
Over the past few months, I have been focusing on a new series of work that I loosely group under the title “Thrown Back.” I came upon these words when reading the definition of the word “reflection” while thinking about a beautiful spot in the forest I visit regularly for inspiration and solace. As an urban dweller, I make it a priority to visit the woods as much as possible. One place in particular draws me back again and again. Harms Woods, found along the North Branch of the Chicago River, is filled with an abundance of oak trees and all sorts of flora and fauna. In these woods is a footbridge that crosses over the river and it is here that I am captivated by the ever changing view of the forest reflected in the water below.
And it is also here that my mind has wandered many times throughout the pandemic. In all of 2020 I was only able to visit twice, once in the spring and again in early winter. I routinely begin my hikes at the southern most part of the trail so that by the time I’m getting close to the bridge, I’m feeling more atuned to the forest environment. The view from the bridge is a marvel to me. On some occasions, the reflection of the arching branches above is in perfect harmony with the image in the river below. But on other occasions, that sense of harmony is missing. Nothing seems to match up. Clouds in the sky are missing in the water, the mirror image of branches is distorted or non-existent, the “thrown back” image is baffling.
As is the definition of the word “reflection.” How strange to use the words “thrown back” to describe the visual phenomenon of one thing seen in another. When I think of a reflection, I never think of something thrown. It seems more like a twin image, a companion, a reverse duplication of a scene, a mirror, a likeness. But thrown back? Somehow these words seem more like a subtitle for the pandemic. Thrown back in time, thrown back from exhaustion, thrown back from the nightmare, through back from our routines.
So I’ve been spending my time reflecting on this special place and painting with watercolor and ink on gesso-primed birchwood panels. The gesso primer is thickly applied with a large brush to create an uneven, textured surface. When calligraphy inks and watercolor paints are poured onto the dried gesso layer, they flow into the textured recesses and expose the linear raised edges of the primer. I then use color pencils to enhance the image and balance the overall tone of each piece.
One of my goals for 2021 is to continue this series of “Thrown Back” paintings along with a few other projects that I will make note of in this blog in the days ahead. With any luck, I’ll be heading back to Harms Woods on a more regular schedule once the the pandemic is under some control with the national vaccination initiative and our ability to move about more freely. If all goes well, I hope to gain some writing confidence by putting my ideas about art and ideas, process and practice into words. And in anticipation of better days ahead, I hope my art continues to be the catalyst that gets me out of bed in the morning, fills my days, and keeps me company at night. Happy New Year!