Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two from 2013: "Granville Bridge" and "Bend in the River"

Bridge on the Lydd - acrylic - 11" x 14" - 2010
When I painted Bridge on the Lydd four years ago (Please see this blog, September 2011) I was primarily concerned with painting a landscape that included reflections in water. The bridge figured prominently in the composition, but did not interest me more than the trees and rocks and reeds. Apart from the gently rippled water there is no movement in this picture: it is a static, peaceful scene.

In 2013 The Vancouver Sketch Club chose "Bridges" as the theme for a group show. My contributions were a view of Granville Bridge, one of three bridges spanning False Creek and linking Vancouver's Downtown with the rest of the city; and Bend in the River, which depicts a bridge over the Lune, just outside Kirkby Lonsdale in Northern England. Like Bridge on the Lydd, these paintings are landscapes of a kind, but this time with a man made structure as the main focus. As I worked on the paintings and developed the image of each bridge and its surroundings, I was surprised how often I found myself thinking about movement. The bridges just stood there, stable and stationary, but these paintings seemed to be about motion, arrested, contained or implied.

Constructing a bridge, even the most basic--a plank thrown across a stream--implies that you want to go somewhere, and that there is an obstacle that you have to go over or under to get there. Usually there is movement in two directions, often running at right angles: cars go over, trains go under. Or the trains go over and pedestrians go under. Or boats go under, or a fast-flowing stream goes under, or water in an aqueduct goes over . . . and there's a little bridge in Queen Elizabeth Park where my children and I used to act out the story of the Billy Goats Gruff. My little goats would trit-trot across the bridge while I lurked underneath waiting for my big moment: Up jumped the TROLL! Delighted screams!
Granville Island sketcher - photo

Granville Bridge is a utilitarian structure of no great charm, heavily used by commuters on their way to work and home again. It's a main artery into Vancouver's business district, and crossing it feels like driving a stretch of highway. Side views are scarcely more inspiring. Much more interesting are the spaces underneath, and the worm's eye view of the bridge from far below. At the south end the bridge passes over Granville Island, popular with both tourists and locals for its market, galleries, cottage industries, children's amenities, and green spaces. There one idyllic summer morning, under a tree and beside a pond, I settled down to draw with some of my Sketch Club friends.  I also took
Granville Bridge - ink
Sketcher - ink
photographs, and later, in the studio, painted Granville Bridge.
Granville Bridge - acrylic - 16" x 16" - 2013

From this angle the bridge acquires a certain grandeur, due to the immense height of those concrete supports. But why did I keep thinking about movement? I know nothing about civil engineering, but I was very much aware of the downward thrust of the verticals--I could feel them boring deep into the earth--and the upward leap of the bridge deck. The movement seemed barely held in check. It reminded me of a  story I'd once read about a bridge that couldn't withstand the tremendous pressures and tensions and sprang apart like an overstretched rubber band.

A bit of research informed me that the bridge disaster I was thinking of was fictional, but I discovered that Wikipedia has a remarkable, and very long, list of bridge failures going back to the Middle Ages: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bridge_failures . As I scanned the list I began to think it's a miracle that any bridges hold up, and that's a scary thought in a city like Vancouver, which is hard to get out of without crossing water. It's true that we've had only minor earth tremors in the fifty-odd years I've lived here, but there's that Big One waiting to strike. Granville Bridge was opened in 1954, and has been seismically upgraded. I hope it's enough: that's one kind of bridge movement I don't want to see.

My second bridge painting is based on a photo I took when visiting a friend in Kirkby Lonsdale. It was not a promising day for walking around sight-seeing: the sky was moody, threatening rain at any moment.
Bend in the River - acrylic - 16" x 16" - 2013
I called this painting Bend in the River because this time the movement which interested me--and was a challenge to paint--was the turbulent rush of the water as it rounded the corner.

At the time I photographed the scene I knew nothing about the bridge, and it wasn't until yesterday, when it occurred to me to try to find out its age, that I learned that it has quite a story. It's called Devil's Bridge, and according to legend was built by the Evil One himself, but only after he was tricked by an old woman. The price for building the bridge was the first soul to cross it; but the old woman threw a piece of bread across and sent her dog to retrieve it. The devil got only a canine soul, but evidently kept his side of the bargain. Since the bridge dates from around 1370 it has seen a great amount of traffic back and forth since the unfortunate dog's inaugural crossing, but it has been closed to motor traffic since 1932. A nondescript new bridge replaced it, only a short distance away and visible under the central arch of Devil's Bridge. In my painting I concealed it behind some trees.