Sunday, October 30, 2011

Artist Sighting

It is a rather common sight to see cars parked along the gravel roads and people photographing, sketching or painting the prairie scenery. Yesterday there was an older man who had parked his car in an opened gate. He had set up his easel at the very edge of the road. When I drove by, I slowed down considerably, not to view his painting, or make him nervous, but to prevent enveloping him and his artwork in a huge cloud of choking dust. I could see that he was, in fact, painting the scenery. (I once drove past a young woman splashing red paint across her canvas - some exercise in complementary colors, I surmised, since there was nothing but green in the landscape as far as the eye could see.)

My neighbors tell a story of an artist who set up in a pasture near here. He was seated at his easel, quite happily painting, entirely unaware of a semicircle of curious cattle that quietly gathered a short distance behind him. At some point he got the feeling of being watched. When he looked around he was startled to find such a large crowd of onlookers - a crowd of onlookers who could stampede him as he sat painting. It was disconcerting. He may have been careful to find truly empty pastures in future plein air excursions.

Artists love to paint en plein air, even unskilled artists like myself, despite the risks of untamed onlookers and other dangerous encroachments.

I spent a day alone on the Kure Beach in North Carolina with my water paints. It was "cold" so I literally had the beach to myself. It was in the upper 50 degrees. I had traveled from Kansas where it was already winter, so to me it was warm and wonderful. To have the entire beach to myself was a miracle, based on the impossible crowd of dwellings stacked up for blocks behind me.

I had a nice painting started but could not resist laying back in the sand and closing my eyes to listen to the first lullaby known to mankind. When I closed my eyes, the water was about 15 feet away from me. I unintentionally fell asleep and I do not know how long I lay in the comforting sand, entirely exposed to any unscrupulous human or gull who may have wished to steal from me. When I woke up, I was greatly startled to see the water was only a few feet from me. As a plains person, I have very little experience with oceans, but I knew it meant the tide had come in. Still, it was deeply unsettling to see how far an entire ocean had moved toward me and how many hundreds of acres of beach were suddenly underwater. The vast weight of water stretching unseen all the way to the coast of Africa suddenly seemed immediate and threatening and I had to stand up. I packed up and left, the painting unfinished.

The dangerous pursuit of art...

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