Place on Page: Musings from the Studio

Bethany

Tree line sketch, Christmas Day, 2012

Tree line sketch, Christmas Day, 2012

For the past few years I have been painting, sketching and taking pictures of a stretch of tree line in Bethany, Connecticut.  The location is the back view off my in-laws deck.  To the first time viewer it may look like a nice vista, or a relaxing bit of earth to act as background.  For me, however, it is much more for no other reason than I took my time with it.  

The first drawing I ever made was in winter sometime around 2007.  The watercolor is little more than a few splotches in a small notebook.  I recall it was quite cold out and my hands, ungloved were tightening in the twilight chill.  It was the sunset across a crisp blue sky that caught my attention and had me standing out in the cold.  The way the trees created a black trestle across the fading orange and pale pink was so beautiful and fleeting, I felt compelled to capture it.  After that moment I would always bring a small set of watercolor and some drawing materials whenever we would visit.  Season over season, from the lush verdant summer, to the orange and red tipped horizon of the autumn trees, I made pictures of that landscape.  In spring, the trees would sparkle with new buds and create a fog of color across the line while in winter, the trees were most prominent and that crisp, ethereal sky would appear around dusk.  From births to deaths, celebrations and loss, holidays and random visits, I tried to capture that landscape and see more than the trees and lawn and sky.  When I wrote my proposal for the Openings Fall Exhibition I knew I wanted to capture these moments in a painting.  Pages and pages of drawings and paintings on paper inspired the canvases for the 1). All of the Above exhibition at St. Paul the Apostle Church.  

It took a long time to even begin.  With so many moments with that landscape I couldn't decide on the approach.  At first I envisioned a collection of moments overlapped, an abstract approach to time and the passage of seasons.  In the end, I realized I wanted to get back to what initially drew me in about dusk in winter.  That time of day, for me, demands a pause.  It is a quite almost solemn time just before the bustle and preparations of the night and day ahead.  I wanted to capture that pause and create a moment of reflection.  The name Bethany is also a biblical reference.  The New Testament town of Bethany was supposedly home to Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus stays with the two sisters of Lazarus.  The passage is one of Jesus' rare rebukes.  Mary sits at Jesus' feet and listens to him teach, while Martha busies herself with preparations for the meal and the guests in her home.  She asks Mary to help her and says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”  Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Although the paintings do not directly relate to this passage, I loved the connection between focusing on the correct thing, not work or preparations but reflection and meditation.  I wanted the general shape to not only evoke an altar piece, but also represent each of the siblings: Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Below is a gallery of the evolution of the paintings.  You will see in some of the pictures, photos and drawings that were used.  I realized half way through that working from photos was a real hindrance and was blocking all my experience with the actual place.   I eventually ripped them down and worked solely from memory, and my past sketches.