Some while ago, I read a comment by a British watercolourist, Tony Foster, who had been painting on both the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon. (He managed to paint six-foot wide pieces on location, quite a feat in of itself!) What he said was, "My thesis is that despite a world overloaded with imagery, certain places still retain the power to inspire awe and wonder. All of my work is based on the philosophy that our planet is a gloriously beautiful but fragile place, and that as an artist, it is my role to deliver a testament to the fact that wild and pristine places still exist."
He is right. Art is one way to remind people that we are still able to visit places that transcend our normal humdrum lives, with beauty and grandeur that humble and inspire us. But the subtext of such reminders is that we need to be vigilant, thoughtful custodians of such places.
This past weekend, when I was out along the Georgia coast, drawing, I felt myself to be in such a place of inspiration. There is something about a natural environment that has not been much changed nor manipulated by man: it has another feel, another rhythm. More primal, perhaps, but infinitely more powerful, subtle, complex and yet, very fragile. As you settle down in such a place to try and create art plein air, the magic of the place begins to seep in - the lay of the land, the movement of water, the breezes, the sounds, the play of light. It is hard to access how these influences show up on the art one is creating - perhaps only others can see them. Nonetheless, there is an alchemy, an inspiration that keeps one going.
Even when the art one is creating is on a small scale, unlike Tony Foster's, the dialogue between place and artist is very much there. Perhaps one is working almost instinctively, but the influences and inspiration of the place seep into what one is doing.
This metalpoint drawing, Marsh wrack, is about the wonderful, but seemingly chaotic patterns left by the dead Spartina grass swept up onto the high water mark by spring tides and left there to decay and re fertilise the salt water marshes. Having spent time drawing a tenaciously majestic dead red cedar tree in Prismacolor, it was interesting to focus in on the marsh wrack lying in rafts along the shore at high water mark.
Both these drawings were, in essence, about the cycle of life in such natural, wild places. The dead cedar was decaying, slowly and inexorably, host to lichen and insects, just as the marsh wrack was home to innumerable small crabs and insects who helped break down the grass stems.
These places of inspiration owe at least some of their power, perhaps, to the implicit reminders that, untrammelled by man's intervention, nature continues its exquisitely balanced and logical cycles of birth, growth, decay. We are straying into a world that should, and can when allowed to, continue to evolve and exist in amazing, elegant sophistication.
As artists, we are privileged to get glimpses of these wonders.