Sunday, March 6, 2011

Travelling Hopefully: "On the Ferry"

On the Ferry - 32" x 24" - acrylic on canvas
Of all my paintings so far, "On the Ferry" has received the most exposure and acknowledgment. It has been included in two juried group shows, and featured on the poster and brochures for the 2010 Burnaby Artists' Studio Tour. I am curious about the painting's appeal to a variety of viewers. I think it has something to do with the forward movement implied by the composition, and the eager anticipation expressed in the body language of the three men at the front of the boat. Perhaps people make metaphorical associations with pursuit of a goal, seeking a better future, or progressing through life. Certainly there is a feeling of energy and enthusiasm suggested by the way the men are leaning out and scanning the horizon, where their destination is faintly visible. At the time, though, what appealed to me was simply something about the arrangement of the four heads in front of me. I photographed them surreptitiously, holding my breath in case they turned around and wondered why the grey-haired foreigner was taking their picture. Fortunately the wind and engine noise drowned out the beeps of the camera.

It had been an odd sort of day. My travelling companion and I were returning from Isla Mujeres to Cancun, where we were spending a week. We had decided to alternate our time between lazing around the beachside gardens sipping margaritas, and making day trips to places of interest further afield. We included Isla Mujeres because a former colleague owned a house there, and although we knew it was rented and we would not be able to go inside, we hoped to see its exterior and location. We set off early on the public bus into town, with only a hazy idea of how to get to the ferry terminal. Before we reached our bus stop, however, the weather, which had so far been Caribbean-perfect, suddenly changed, and a torrential downpour turned the streets into watercourses. Not wishing to start our offshore excursion soaked to the skin, we scooted across the road and piled onto a bus going the other way, back to our hotel--another 40-minute trip. By the time we got there, of course, the sun was shining and everything was dry. Nevertheless we picked up rain gear and set off again. This time we made it on to the ferry and to our destination, where we found our friend's house, had lunch nearby, and wandered around a bit. There was no more rain, but the day remained moody and unsettled. Because of our false start in the morning, it was soon time to head back to the ferry. For me the sea trip itself was the best part of the day.

That I was in the area at all was something of a miracle that still seems improbable. I'd been in Mexico several times before, but never on the Caribbean side. Then, in 2006, I received a phone call telling me I had won airfare and a week's hotel accommodation in Cancun. I was convinced at first that it was one of those telephone scams one hears about, but the prize turned out to be genuine--and I hadn't even been aware of entering the contest! Apparently I'd bought some sponsoring product at Canada Safeway that had put me in a draw. The woman who called expressed surprise that I didn't know about it, because, she said, the winner was announced on television. But since I never watch Canadian football, I had missed hearing my name!

While waiting to receive the package with details about my prize, I said not a word to anyone, and agonized over how to invite one friend to go with me without hurting and offending all the others. Finally I asked the one I'd chosen, and she squealed and leapt in the air most gratifyingly. Meanwhile I did some research on Cancun, about which I knew nothing, and was appalled to read that it was just the sort of place I'd always avoided. It's an artificial town, created some 35 years ago specifically to accommodate tourists. All the visitor amenities are housed on a long skinny barrier island, the zona hotelera, while the "real" people live in the nondescript town across the lagoon and the shanty towns some distance away.

Cancun Conversation - 24" x 24" - acrylic on board
Still, you don't look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed our week in the tropics in mid-February, the best time of year to escape Vancouver. Our hotel was very civilized and located well away from the garish bars and souvenir outlets. The weather, apart from the Isla Mujeres day, was glorious. We swam and relaxed and sampled local dishes, and there were bonuses such as the large lizards which shared the hotel grounds with the guests. Later I painted two of them (a waiter assured us they were father and son, though how on earth would he know?) and my travelling companion now has "Cancun Conversation" hanging in her home. It's a reminder of our holiday and of the battered old warrior that liked to sit under her chair when he wasn't chasing off his reptilian rivals.

Perhaps it's not always better to travel hopefully than to arrive. In the case of Cancun I travelled somewhat dubiously, and being there was much better than anticipated. If "On the Ferry" has metaphorical significance for me it lies in the renewal of hope and energy each time I tackle a
new painting. It's always a challenge and learning experience, and the possibility that this will be my best work ever. Maybe it'll even bring me fame and fortune . . . though I'll settle for just proving to myself that I can meet the challenge and make it work.  There's always a horizon beckoning.

Next time (around March 13):
Painting in a Wet Climate: 
"The Rhythm of the Falling Rain" and "Hanging in the Rain."

Please see also:


Diane said...

Finally got into this comment box! Well, one thing that could make your sea trip painting popular in Vancouver is the sun!! I guess we'd all trade a wet February day for a few hours out in that boat. Also the fact that we can't see the faces helps us "get on board" and travel along in imagination.

I like the lizards too. The older one reminds me a bit of an iguana I once met :-) ...although he looks smaller. Quite a character though.

Dorothy said...

I love these paintings. You certainly captured two of the highlights of our wondrful week in Cancun.