Often, the simplicity of a painting will cause us to pause our critical thinking and allow us to just take in the image for its own sake. I liken it to A Philosophy of Simple Economics. This happens when a beautiful balance is struck “just so” between shape, proportion, light and shade and other components of a picture. Our visual senses somehow evaluate these things on an inate level and we may then respond favorably for reasons we can’t explain.
I love these types of paintings and it is a quality that a lot of artists strive for. Some paintings are for the purpose of telling a story outright with narrative props and actors, others deliver a specific point of view or social comment, and some are derived from a spiritual or philosophical search or connection.
Landscape painting, like this one I did of Aliso Canyon in Orange County, CA, is part of the latter. The goal for me is to dillute the details into a comprehensive whole that works best as a balanced composition and to hopefully deliver that moment of simple contemplative engagement. It could be like an investment strategy, where the economy of strokes delivers the maximum effect. In this respect, the simplicity of the landscape reaches the edge of the formal modernists’ concerns for sublimation and search for form. In other words, abstraction. With this kind of analysis, however, the words just get in the way.
On a day in early spring, it is possible to have that moment when the first hint of the seasons’ change is about to take place. It is the period of the equinox, when the sun is at the mid-point of its apparent annual travel from its winter dip to its summer height . The winds bluster while the atmosphere mixes between warm and cool. From time to time the sun will strike your skin from between the cold billowing clouds, like a warm finger tap and the scarves and jackets will give way to summer shirts.
To take a moment to observe the weather and feel the air is part of life. In a way, this transition is symbolic, indicating the necessity of the unique forces of nature working with each other to maintain our lives. All this keeps going on, often beyond our notice. In depictions of large expansive landscapes, particularly oil paintings, it is easy to find ourselves pondering some existential thoughts. Here is a meditative scene of a cool wind swept plain. Far in the distance is a fleeting patch of sunlight. The clouds may be slowly and silently passing. In any case, the richness from such pondering hopefully adds some soulful perspective to our daily interactions.
Note: If interested, I invite you to consider the work of Jacob Van Ruisdael. (This link takes you to the National Gallery of London website). In my opinion, he produced some of the finest of Dutch landscape painting that exemplifies the idea of quiet magnificence.
A little while ago, I drove south of Los Angeles and into the wilds of North East Orange County where there several canyons and trails. With my portable painting kit where I would be able to paint a view of Santiago Peak. Orange County California has within it a number of beautiful parks to visit and hike. One visit brought me to the canyon country at base of Santiago Peak. Along a creek bed I saw this view and decided on it as a subject to paint. Standing on the rocks and sand of the wash, I laid a nine by twelve panel on my portable easel and began to lay out little piles of paint onto my palette. The activity of preparation got me tuned in to the immediate environment around me. I could hear the gurgling water and feel the mild breeze, the sun was setting behind me.
In some ways I could imagine what a rustic and remote environment this must have been to the early settlers of the area. I wondered how they made their way into the canyons, carving out little villages and stage routes. On the face of my view of the mountain, I knew to be a small hidden village area called Modjeska. Odd, it seems, that a Polish name for the town is in a land where most are monikered after Spanish surnames. The area is named after Helena Modjeska, a polish born Shakespearian actress who was quite famous in the 1870’s.
Today, and not too far away are the freeways and urban sprawl that has become Southern California. Seeing this view of Santiago Peak was good place to connect with the area and imagine it’s history. I could imagine the spirits of the Native Americans, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the American Pioneers, and Helena Modjeska who have had their history here. Now we can tell the stories, imagine the past and add to the legacy. While painting this view of Santiago Peak, I felt as though I was being a part of that history also.
During the fall of 2015, this painting was laid in quickly during a moments notice when I saw outside, the view of the clouds building behind the trees. I grabbed a small field easel, an umber and a blue and started sketching while the wild wind started blowing over the landscape. The weather was about to bring in a good marine layer but was holding out over the water for now. Also, the sun was setting therefore, fast work was important. After a day or two I finished the painting.
A few months later the painting was on display at the Long Beach Museum of Art for their semi-annual fundraiser. The artwork now belongs in a private collection to a purchaser who responded to the painting with a personal appreciation.