Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reflecting on Reflections: "Watery World" Series

Like many artists I produce many more paintings than I sell. Maybe some time that will change, but in the meantime, what to do with all the inventory is a head-scratching challenge. I like to have my most recent work on the wall, partly so that, if it does eventually sell, I will have been able to enjoy it a bit first, and partly because faults that need fixing sometimes show up. It's much better to correct a bit of bad drawing or an ambiguous patch of colour while the painting is still in my possession, rather than in a purchaser's home or, worse still, in a gallery!  Still, there's a limit to how much my home and studio walls will bear, and the remaining paintings end up stashed in closets and propped several deep behind my studio furniture. At present this is the fate of most of last year's work, a series of paintings of reflections in water. I wrote about some of them in this blog in September 2011, remarking that my interest shifted from seeing reflections as part of a larger scene to fascination with the reflections in their own right, independent of the things being reflected.

Forest Pond  - acrylic - 27" x 42" - 2011
"Forest Pond" was an important transitional step. As I worked on this, for me, quite large painting, I realized at some point that I couldn't tell exactly where the water level was, so that I couldn't be sure what was "real" and what was the reflected image.
As I continued to study reflections in different bodies of water--pools, streams, lakes--I became engrossed in the shifting, unstable, looking-glass world beneath my feet. Anything could happen down there: there was no need for rational explanations. This was very liberating, since I was free to imagine and invent. After all, nothing was "real"--it was just an image, and an unreliable one at that, subject to fragmentation by a sudden gust of wind or sprinkle of rain. On the other hand, standing on the edge of water and gazing down was somewhat dizzying. I suppose it induced a kind of vertigo. I thought it might be a challenge to paint reflections without making a viewer feel queasy and disoriented. At first I myself kept getting confused about which way was up! As I continued, however, I sought out the little cues that differentiate a reflection from above-water reality--the surface ripple, the sky poking through at the bottom of the composition, things on the bed of the pond or stream intruding into the reflections.

Watery World 2 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011
Watery World 3 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011

I began with three variations on a pond in Stanley Park in Vancouver. It was a summer day, and the pond was in a wooded area, with dappled sunlight catching some of the branches. A little waterfall trickled over a rock, wiggling the reflected  conifer needles and crinkling hard edges, but the surface was still enough to make an almost perfect mirror image.

Next I tackled two images of reflections in moving water. These turned into more abstract compositions because the wind on the lake, in one case, and the swift current of the river in the other, splintered and distorted the image.

Watery World 5 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011
Watery World 4 - acrylic - 30" x 24" - 2011

These two paintings happen to be based on photos I took in different places in England, but with a project like this one the geography hardly matters. These are not site-specific landscapes. Reflections presumably behave the same way the world over! (Here I go off into a reverie about bath water spiralling in opposite directions in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. What would that do to reflections? And then there's that perplexing question: where is the dividing line where the water starts to swirl the other way . . . ? Having spent two weeks in Quito I can attest to the fact that nothing dramatic happens right on the equator.)

Watery World 6 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011
The next two "Watery Worlds" were located in yet another part of England. This time I was walking alongside a little stream in rain that fell intermittently as fine drizzle and a soaking downpour. It was the middle of June, and chilly. The stream was described as a "winterbourne", which means that it often dries up in summer. Not too much chance of that the year I was there. The lush vegetation that lined the banks included the copper beeches that show in the paintings as purple leaves.

Watery World 7 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011
Watery World 7 suffered a misfortune in my studio just before the 2011 Eastside Culture Crawl. My year's work was hanging on the walls, with the exception of the work-in-progress, which was on the easel. As I worked on this painting the big studio easel suddenly collapsed and folded itself up, crashing into No. 7 and tearing a two-inch gash in the canvas. Afterwards I realized that a screw at the back of the easel that I hadn't adjusted in months must have worked its way loose. I patched the painting on the back with a square of canvas and lots of acrylic medium, and touched up the paint. It really doesn't show, but of course, if someone wants to buy it I'll have to reduce the price.

Watery World 8 - acrylic - 30" x 24" - 2011

Nos. 8, 9 and 10 are back in Stanley Park. They are all reflections in the ornamental pool in the garden outside the dining pavilion. There are tall conifers growing there but also more exotic plants like the giant gunnera in No. 8 and the red-leaved plant in No. 10. On this occasion the sun was shining, creating yellow bars on the water which faded out the reflections and let the bed of the pool show through.

Watery World 10 - acrylic - 24" x 30" - 2011

Next blog post will be in June