“Oh, artists always think that they see beauty when there is nothing there,” puffed my Aunt when she saw my painting of a trough in the corner of their farm field. She believed, as many do, that the subject is the concern of a painting rather than the visual poetry of that topic.
In art college we were encouraged to develop our looking skills through an exercise that sent us out from the school with instructions to paint whatever we found just ten minutes away. “Go in any direction, on foot or in a vehicle, but in exactly ten minutes you will be at the subject for your work. Find the visual interest there.”
After over thirty-five years, this sensitivity to visual opportunity has become instinctive for me so when our open river boat in tropical Costa Rica slid past the jungle shores, I could hardly contain myself. Monkeys and sloths gawked from the tightly packed vegetation. Crocodiles and water birds went about their daily routines as the management at Kodak smiled their approval from afar. Thatched houses stood stork-like on skinny legs along the edge of the smoothly flowing river. Everywhere I looked I saw opportunities for paintings. The colours, the patterns, and the intensity of light conspired to make me nuts. I find it impossible to close out stimuli, unlike my bride who could do her income taxes in the middle of a shopping mall, such is her concentration. She prefers to call it focus.
This simple view of a tiny slice of shoreline is only one of the paintings that sprang from this journey. It is not surprising that as a painter, I need not discipline myself to work, but rather I must restrain myself from painting myself into exhaustion.