Friday, July 30, 2010

Staring Eyes

I woke up in Ethiopia in the middle of the night, after many hours of traveling the day before. I hadn’t yet adjusted to the time difference, and I was wide awake. My eyes were staring out at the darkness of my room and there were sounds all around me. My mind and body were still in a fog from the travel, and it took a few moments to make sense of the sounds that woke me. There was a confusion of singing from the nearby church, and dogs barking, and the howl of hyenas, and the calling from the mosque, and there in the distance, the sound of a second Christian church, all layered and overlapping each other. This blend of sounds came to me as one indistinct whole, one complex sound.

[caption id="attachment_363" align="alignright" width="151" caption="The Spring, oil on canvas, 2009, 200 x 85"]The Spring[/caption]

The beauty of the moment—with the sounds coming from the distance, the darkness, the danger of the distant hyenas’ howl and the safety and comfort of the familiar and nearby human sounds—the moment was so beautiful that I sat up and started sketching, trying to capture the sounds, the moments, the image of myself and the harmony of those nights sounds washing over me. Also, I was struck by the strangeness of the nocturnal hyenas’ call in what my body thought was the middle of the afternoon.

One of the challenges, and the joys of being an artist come in moments like that. How to capture that moment, that flash of experience, and to present it to your audience and to yourself? You can’t take a photograph of that experience—it wouldn’t show it all. Neither would an audio recording of those sounds, nor a video. None of those mechanical methods of recording the sight and sound of that experience can capture a sense of the person who was experiencing it. The idea, the experience comes, and the artist trains himself or herself to be able to let that idea flow through him and onto his paper as he sketches, and sketches and sketches. It’s as if I am a falling leaf, carrying in the cup of my leaf the sounds of those churches and the feel of the night air.

I’m in the process of developing these ideas into a series of paintings, and I’m looking forward to presenting them in the coming months. After traveling through Ethiopia and Germany and Vienna, Austria this summer, it’s good to be back home and back in the studio.

Upcoming Event:

I’m going to be participating in an open house in a few weeks at the Artisan House Galleries, on August 12th, from 5-8pm. I’ll send out more information as the time gets near, but mark your calendars and come on out.