Friday, July 27, 2012

Nature's Voice

There is a place where it is cool even though the air is hot. A magical place, full of freezing cold water that comes up out of the earth. A special gift to us who have labored all week in 90-degree temperatures trying to capture the world around us. Seven springs literally come up out of Great North Mountain and flow down stream forming an ideal swimming hole. The water is ice cold and as clear as glass. You can drink it. This has become one of our favorite places to paint.

We recently finished our latest painting workshop at Shrine Mont. It was—as it has been for the last fours years—simply wonderful. It is this sense of place that we are looking for. We look for connections to the landscape—connections to the mountains, still waters, rock formations or to color. Some things speak more loudly than others.

It is always part of the workshop objective to achieve a “state of mind” when painting. The painting becomes a witness to that state of mind. Or really, the various states of mind one experiences when painting like this. The picture itself is secondary.

There is a state of mind when discovering. Something spoke to me and I listened; I explored; I looked and I felt. What spoke to me? What did I hear? What do I feel? What do I want to share? Things reveal themselves. There is no question that some places demand your attention and others do not. There could be meaning in the sound of moving water: a memory. It could be the magnitude of the mountains: the age, the vastness of one’s surroundings. It could be a reflection or the way light falls on a tree.

"Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing one's sensations." (Cézanne)

This connection of the artist to the landscape, of the artist to the specific landscape, is one you find through out art history. Georgia O’Keeffe didn’t paint just any landscape but a one that spoke to her, that worked with her vision and sense of place. Cézanne had his beloved Mont Ste-Victoire. Homer, the coast of New England. Neil Welliver, the woods of Maine.

In this case though it isn’t just any place that speaks. It is also this place, Shrine Mont, in Orkney Springs, Virginia that fuels our endeavors—a place that people have been coming to for well over one hundred and fifty years for respite and rejuvenation. A place originally of tourism and now enriched with spiritual meaning. It is a place that also sits in one of the most beautiful areas of Virginia.

Shrine Mont adds a dimension to this landscape that removes us from the ordinary to the “extra ordinary”. It takes us away from the commonplace and everyday and allows us to hear nature’s voice. Things are discovered that may never have occurred had we only spent a day outside. Shrine Mont has no television, no air conditioning. It is old and worn and very special.

“At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it.” (Robert Henri)