Thursday, August 27, 2009

We March into the Future Facing Backwards

Leon Trotsky in his elegantly written book History of the Russian Revolution came up with the title for this post. He was talking about how our understanding, ideas, and emotions are formed almost entirely by past events. It literally is all we have. We struggle to see what lies ahead, always just around the bend and out of sight. Revolutionaries and artists aren't so different. We are trying to make something new out of the clay of the present.

I was wondering how to sum up what kind of painter I am. 

Here's a wonderful Sanford Gifford I saw again up at the Philadelphia Museum of Art two days ago. Anyone who's ever been swept up in storms of rain or a tempest of their emotions can feel themselves in this picture.

And here's a seemingly very different artist, Charles Burchfield watercolor. Here a very different kind of feeling sweeps us away. Unlike Gifford's gathering storm,  this painter give us the dance between lace-like branches and the diamonds of sunlight bursting through the leaves.

Both of these artists found something elemental and important in their view of nature. I love being alive now. In my own painting I'm not trying to duplicate artifacts of the past. We have moved on and in ways both obvious and hidden our reality is different than those who've gone before. But the art of the past so often echoes in the experiences any of us have.

As I march into my own future in my studio (facing backward, of course) artists like Gifford and Burchfield are whispering in my ear. 

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