it is likely close to a dozen times that you have mumbled and ranted you have enough of this winter. While some of us do it privately, for others it is so unbearable it needs to be announced in a more public and far-reaching way.
The view from my NJ transit train commute to my day job reminds me that even if Spring is finally here, it will be doing a lot of comprehenseive washing off and melting off.
Even when I am at the toasty warm floor of my workplace in downtown NYC, the view outside is inescapable. The skin of clear glass that coats the building on all sides guarantees a clear and distinct panoramic views of this winter’s glorious unglory. My co-workers I and just gawked at witnessing NY Waterway boats that seem like lightweight paper boats carefully going through sheets of broken ice moving on the surface of the Hudson river.
I am not entirely sure what the reason is for shooting this following photo, which is very pathetic. The reasons could either be feeling I am in knots about something at work, or something personal, or a call for winter ceasefire… or a combination of all of those.
Fortunately, all creatures have built-in coping mechanisms. One of them is not giving a fuck. It is this idea that this man named Mark Manson wrote about in this inspirational essay. The aptly funny photo of the blog page is just as convincing.
But if we are talking about THIS current winter, not even that cool and nonchalant kitty above will find it easy to declare that it truly does not give a fuck.
This cabin fever is even bleeding into my studio work. What looks like drifts, snowy hazes, hail storms and short-lived thaws make appearances in my paintings.
This is not implying that this season’s extremes are impoverishing the studio work, and that it means nothing to us other than a duration and condition that needs to be tolerated and survived until is has finally passed. Many things thrive in winter or thrive because of winter. There are industries dependent on it. There are sports that exist because of it. And ecologically speaking, winter’s importance is so much so that nature’s balance would not be as it is without winter’s allowing life to be dormant and in the state of preparation so it awakens when warm weather arrives.
Therefore life – and/or whatever else you may want to call what is secret and hidden in all their bubbling and bursting potential- is embedded in this vast seemingly sparse winter. Perhaps that can be an analogy to all aspects of living, thinking, working and actualizing: the hidden potential in things, places, matters and conditions that appear or are believed to have nothing good in them. The French historian Henri Focillon wrote of this hidden potential in his book “The Life of Forms in Art,” and linking it to what he calls “metamorphosis of form” which is something that results when a form is subjected to extremely limited and narrow conditions:
“The most rigorous rules, apparently intended to impoverish and standardize formal material, are precisely those which, with an almost fantastic wealth of variations and of metamorphoses, best illuminate superb vitality.” (p. 41)
Presenting Islamic ornament as his visual example, that with their “mathematical reasoning” and “cold calculation, and being “so removed from life,” and yet what emerges from them are a brilliant complexity of shapes, instigated by “a sort of fever.”
So that what is outside the window of the NJ Transit train commute transforms from something merely looked it, and into something seen. That what looks like a barren NJ meadowlands marsh-turned-winterscape…
…reveals a huddle of seagulls on the frozen marsh water.
And on the power lines above the train tracks: a glimpse of a raptor’s nest to which its builder/s may or may not return in the Spring.
And a walk in the snow-covered woods.. .
…where even the sign to the woods is not free from the snowy assault…
…shows many scenes of winter’s gentle streak. This is not the only leaf being tenderly cradled by snow.
And nearby, the same snow providing a hushed bed for a pair of fallen tree bark.
And not far off, there’s a ghost.
In addition to being witness, one can be proactive too, and act as conscious agent in that metamorphosis that Focillon wrote about.
Carving, digging into, squeezing, sweeping, scouring into snow and treating it like a medium no different in its potential from the other media I use in my studio, here I scour until I made something that I cannot determine what it wants to be: a miniature snowy cave opening, or a point of focus into a particular section of the woods.
Finding snow on the bark of a tree…
…and sort of rearranging snow into a constellation.
Grasping a clump of snow and squeezing it to make form of what is inside our clenched hands.
Or simply laying one’s hands to leave a light and ephemeral imprint of our presence, something that may speak to how we as a species on this Earth are just as equally an ephemeral appearance in the life of the planet.
And so we humans are an ephemeral presence; and yet we do not feel this as so as manifested in our impatience for the cessation of something that existed long before we were on this Earth, and will likely continue to to do so long after we are gone.
Perhaps this is why I persist as an artist and as a painter. That there is something in the medium of painting, in the artist studio practice, the activity, the decisions, the negotiations, that all put into place, and sometimes make utterly clear and identifiable what it means to be a human being placed in some form of desolation, whether it is physical, mental, emotional, social-cultural. And this now sounds like an idea for a separate journal entry.
Now back in the studio, and allowing for winter to take its course, as I allow this painting I’m working on to also take its course, because -in the same vein as winter- painting has existed long before me, and will likely still be here way after I am long gone.
Time for a selfie on my oil paint.