|Unfinished painting of the wreck of the SS Ethie, Newfoundland, by Carol L. Douglas|
When Mary and I stood at Martin’s Point in Gros Morne National Park, we knew there would be no work done that day. We’d driven there specifically to paint the wreck of the SS Ethie. This is a lovely shipwreck story featuring a Newfoundland dog and a baby, but I’ve told it before.
However, Hurricane Matthew was rumbling up the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The beach was windswept, cold and wet. It was starting to snow. This was one of the moments in my trans-Canada adventure where I just took photos and moved on.
The Ethie’s hero, a Newfoundland dog, came from tiny Sally’s Cove, seen in the mist.
Sadly, my photos captured nothing of the grinding energy of the sea that drove the Ethie into the rocks in the first place, on a similar wintry day. Her iron remains are scattered along a surprisingly long stretch of rock-studded beach, but that doesn’t really work in a painting.
Occasionally, I like to let my subconscious do some work. I reverted to a technique I used frequently about fifteen years ago. I improvised a series of shapes on a large canvas. The only guidance I gave myself was the word “maelstrom.” I didn’t start this with any sense of up or down, and I rotated the canvas as I worked.
One of my former students in Rochester recently broke his leg. He is using the time experimenting with abstract painting. “I have come to believe that representational painting is easier because there is some reference,” Brad told me. In some ways, he’s right. That reaching down inside yourself is difficult business.
I can grip on to reality too hard, and one of my current goals is to let go, at least a little bit. There are important things to learn in the completely subjective side of painting, and it’s been too long since I’ve visited it.
As interesting as this was, I had to set it aside and return to my regularly-scheduled work. I’ve just bought a new laptop. My old one was, like my old dog, falling down regularly. It had developed the whiff of corruption in its hard drive and did not want to give up its secret gnosis, by which I mean the more than 32,000 images I consult on a regular basis.
|Parts of the Ethie are scattered along the shore.|
I’m not good at logical, hierarchical work. For one thing, there’s too much sitting. I just get mad and punch buttons until something happens. However, two days of pacing and swearing at a machine did give that abstraction time to settle in my head. Last night I sat down and converted it to a realistic painting—of sorts.
It’s not that I literally took the abstraction and applied it to the painting, or that I took my reference photos and applied them to the abstraction. The underpainting was my sense of the motion of the surf, and I plugged in details of the wreck where I wanted them. I’m pretty sure I can make something of it.