“Stay awhile” is what the trees said to poet Mary Oliver in “When I Am Among the Trees,” as she endeavored to “walk slowly, and bow often.” Oliver’s humble reverence for nature derives from quiet moments on ordinary walks. It is experienced and expressed on a deeply personal level in spare, precise language. Her ability to discern and convey nature’s lessons is profound: Be present, be humble, be grateful. And be aware of your mortality.
Her words are a gentle nudge, inspiring me to be more alive and perceptive. And that sensitivity is what informs the work here. The Marsh Songs series, which makes up the bulk of this show, was inspired by a winter walk with a friend through the Magnuson Park. It was one of those dreamy, fog-laden mornings when the sun was just beginning to glow through the dense air. The wispy trees, glassy water and dramatic atmosphere sang in chorus, soto vocce.
“I’m sorry,” I said to my friend as I pulled out my camera. “We won’t be getting much vigorous exercise today.” An hour and a half and 172 photos later, the mist still hung in in the air, and I knew I had enough imagery to captivate me for months.
Back in the studio, I applied the poet’s lessons. Recall the moment: the cool, moist air, the mist rising off the wetlands, bending the light and silhouetting delicate saplings. Edit and distill the cacophony to the simplest expression of that moment. Paint mindfully, re-evaluating with each stroke: Is the color, the value, the shape and placement bringing me closer to the essence of that experience? Be discerning, like Mary.
The next part of the creative act is up to you, for how you receive and respond to the work on these walls is just as individual and personal and meaningful as my creation of it. What does it recall for you? Where does it take you? What narrative evolves in your mind?
Oliver’s words will always be a deep well for me, a handbook for creating and living fully: “My work is loving the world … mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”