On the process of painting fictional landscape.
Landscape. Merriam-Webster: a portion of territory that can be viewed at one time from one place. Oxford English: The distinctive features of a particular situation or intellectual activity. Wikipedia: Sky is almost always included in the view, and weather is often an element of the composition.
When I was nine or ten years old and probably about the size of a large beaver, I was riding shotgun with my father in his VW bug around back dirt roads in Vermont, where we lived. It must have been during a drought in summer or fall because we passed a large beaver house that sat in a dried-up river bed. I said I’d always wanted to find out what it was like inside a beaver house, so he pulled over and parked. Within the crisscrossed gnawed sticks, I found an opening that normally would have been underwater and crawled in. I could just about fit my head and shoulders inside. There was a central dimly lit passageway, hard-packed with sandy dirt that rose like a little hill with a flattish top and then headed down to another entrance or exit on the back of the house. On each side of this passage were four carved-out round cave rooms, also of hard-packed sand in which the family of beavers must have slept. I remember it smelled like wet sand and sapling, and I could imagine how cozy it must have been in there with cold river water slapping on the exterior sticks and a winter Nor’Easter wailing away outside.
I don’t work directly from an actual landscape en plein air. My paintings are all made in the studio. The landscape paintings I make, with the help of experience, imagination, curiosity, luck, paint, brushes, tools, and a mysterious connection to my unique unconscious or maybe some sort of helpful angelic muse, grow from a lifelong congruence with the land and water and what we call the “natural world.” To me, human beings are part of the natural world on an equal footing with ants, squid, moths, whales, or coccolithophores. Humans are not separate from “nature,” no matter how much they like to emphasize that detachment. We’re all in this together.
My overall approach to the work—“the work” being an exciting but almost alien entity outside me—is guided by the wild, driven by how separated and alienated from the natural world humans have become and the terrible disaster that has occurred because of this alienation.
My landscape painting is also rooted in my childhood. All our family trips were local camping adventures. My father took us to places only a few people knew about—special spots next to rivers or lakes where we made fireplaces and hung tarps for roofs, kept caches of pots and pans, fished for trout or bass, swam, carved designs in Moose Maple sticks, made tiny water mills, and collected plenty of firewood for cooking pancakes and fish, beans and hotdogs, and for telling stories at night. What we did in a place wasn’t as important as the ritual of going there and being there.
We grew up in an old house in a tiny village near the woods, which we shared with a long series of cats, dogs, mice, raccoons, birds, turtles, skunks, and salamanders, and additionally visiting relatives, visual artists, writers, musicians, teachers, and philosophers.
In the studio, the landscapes I paint come directly out of my imagination. I transform real-life memories of my childhood, islands, the sea, fields, woods, rivers, trees, clouds, and stars into unreal landscapes often populated with imaginary animals, including people. This process only works well if the balance of focusing on an intellectual or emotional “idea” and letting the hand, eyes, materials, and tools be guided by intuition is overloaded on the intuitive side.
My landscape, and all that word encompasses from my past and present, lives inside me. When I paint, some version of it emerges. In a way, at my age (early 70s), my childhood has become like a fantastic dream that I transfer to and relive through my landscapes.
Image at top: Anna Dibble, Dances in the Dark, acrylic and flashe, 22 x 30 in.
You must log in to post a comment.