Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why these mountains? Why this sky?

The image of a canary, barbed wire, and containment have been bouncing about in my head for the last few but I haven't been able to see the composition.


I've been thinking about visual depth depicted on a flat surface and found myself admiring some paintings from the Prado, in particular Claude Lorrain's The Embarkation of Saint Paula Romana at the Port of Ostia c. 1639-1640. I also have been looking at Scenes of American Life: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The paintings in that book document American life in the first half of the Twentieth Century—from the boom times of the Roaring Twenties through to the chaos of Great Depression and World War II. I'm fascinated by the way artists rendered a time that seems to parallel our own—from the crazy economic frenzy of the 1970's and 1980's to the current convoluted recession and twisted up wars in the Middle East.
Alexandre Hogue's Dust Bowl especially caught my eye for a number of reasons. Though created 300 years after Lorraine's and set horizontally instead of vertically, it still shares a similar compositional space. A light-emanating sun is pinned between strong triangular elements and placed central to the canvas. I'm also drawn to it because it contains one of the iconic images I have in my head for this new painting—the rusting barred wire I've found strangling the trees in the forest.
This morning the sky in Jericho was cerulean beautiful. This afternoon in Winooski there was a sudden, sky-blackening hail storm. This evening driving I-89 home pointed towards Camel's Hump, Lorrain and Hogue's composition came to life! The rain soaked road stretched towards the mountains and the cobalt blue and alizarin storm clouds were struck by an opening in their mass that let loose the low setting sun. It graced their edges with gold and lit the new-green trees with silver. And there before me was presented the final pieces of my composition.
"...And he said: The higher you fly, the faster you fall. He said: Send it up. Watch it rise. See it fall. Gravity's rainbow. Send it up. Watch it rise. See it fall. Gravity's angel. Why these mountains? Why this sky? This long road. This ugly train...."
—Laurie Andersen, Gravity's Angel

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