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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Looking backward


"Delaware Water Gap," 12X9, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas
“Delaware Water Gap,” 12X9, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas
I used to commute from Rochester to New York City once a week, a round trip of about 700 miles. The fastest route between the two ends of New York is actually through Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This takes you through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
A water gap is where an old river cuts through a mountain ridge. My college-age kid tells me that about 400 million years ago, a microcontinent called Avalonia collided with proto-North America. This heated and cracked the quartz in the Shawangunk Ridge, which allowed the Delaware River to slowly cut its path through the mountains as they rose. Or something like that.
“Lower Falls at Letchworth,” 18×24, oil on canvas. It took me a whole summer to finish two paintings but at the end I understood how I wanted to simplify the rock forms.
“Lower Falls at Letchworth,” 18×24, oil on canvas. It took me a whole summer to finish two paintings but at the end I understood how I wanted to simplify the rock forms.
The whole idea sounds about as plausible to me as fairies, but there is no question that the Delaware Water Gap is a beautiful jumble of massive rock folds and towering greenery through which the river glides in cool, reserved majesty.
I frequently stopped there to rest; occasionally I painted. One of those paintings, above, is on my website, but I haven’t thought about it for years. Sunday I received an email inquiry about it. Yesterday a woman from Minnesota purchased it. I don’t know her attachment to the Water Gap, but I hope she has the joy of owning it that I had in painting it.
“Upper Falls at Letchworth,” 18×24, oil on canvas.
“Upper Falls at Letchworth,” 18×24, oil on canvas.
We all end up with good work in our storerooms that we’ve moved beyond. I think particularly of a pair of paintings of Letchworth Gorge that I spent nearly a whole summer on. I consider them among my best landscape paintings. It was in painting them that I learned how to abstract the natural form. However, they are very different from my current work and thus difficult to show.
“Buffalo Grain Elevators,” oil and cold wax medium. This was the culmination of a period of tinkering with surfaces to imply the decay of cities like Buffalo.
“Buffalo Grain Elevators,” oil and cold wax medium. This was the culmination of a period of tinkering with surfaces to describe the age of cities like Buffalo.
There is no expiration date on good work. But we frequently set it aside because its problems no longer interest us. That is a mistake, I think. Old work deserves to be revisited.
Sometimes its strength surprises me. At other times, it’s actually more consistent with my current work than I remembered. But beyond that, what no longer occupies your thoughts on a technical level may still bring great joy to others.

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