March 1st, and the clouds sailing by remind me of Constable’s wonderful cloud studies. It is amazing how acutely he observed those cloud formations, especially when you think of the English climate, where winds so often move the clouds across the sky so speedily. No wonder meteorologists have used Constable’s cloud art to learn more of the 19th century climate in England! Here in coastal Georgia, cloud formations are perhaps less fleeting on many days, but today, with cold fronts moving in, the crisp clear light is like that of more northern climates.
Beneath the sailing clouds, the bare winter trees dip and bend, making me think of Cezanne’s austere trees. Every artist is indeed influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by what Cezanne did – witness the current hugely important exhibition, Cezanne and Beyond, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions). The trees that Cezanne distilled to their essence are an example of what Liubov Popova (Russian, 1889-1924) talked about: “Cezanne no longer depicted the impression of the object, but only its essence.”
When I draw trees in silverpoint or paint them in watercolors, I try to find what makes their strength and rhythms so distinctive, and yet so universal. Live oaks or red cedars, for instance, are emblematic of coastal Georgia, as they endure heat and wind, sandy soils and scant natural nourishment. Their survival could teach us all a great deal about living in grace, even in adversity.