Painting and fine art photography from Canadian artist Roberta Murray, ASA
07 March 2017
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Easel
Moon Rising - 16x20" - Oil
My painting mantra has been "I don't paint the landscape. I paint my spirit disguised as the landscape." I often stray far from those intentions, however. Sometimes I do paint the landscape as it is without reflecting on my mood or spirit at that time. If I was strictly painting from my inner spirit I would not use references, but I often do use one. Granted I try to find a reference (or references - I often use several at once) that suits the mood I want to convey, but I'm still basing it on a particular time and place.
My husband gets the brunt of all my art rants. The thoughts, the joys, the frustrations, the insecurities, the a'ha moments.....all of it. We had a conversation awhile ago which centred around being genuine and trying to convey that inner emotion on canvas; of being expressive. I had joked that "right now I'm pissed off". My husbands reply was to go paint that. I didn't.
That feeling of being mad at the world returned one day last year (okay it returns more often than that, but for the sake of the article.....). I was signed up for a painting workshop with one of my painting idols, Terry Miura, whom I have written about before. I had spent the first part of the week cooking and doing all the other little things to be ready to head to Calgary. Wednesday night came and I had the car loaded with all my painting supplies. All I needed to do was load the food I was taking and my suitcase in the morning, and start my adventure.
Just as bedtime approached I felt that burning in my throat which is the signal trouble lay ahead. I loaded up on vitamins and did a salt water gargle before I went to bed, hoping for the best. Morning came and I knew I was getting sick. I thought about cancelling. But I kept hoping with more vitamins and gargling, maybe I'd be able to fight it off, or it would just be a mild cold and I could soldier through. After all, when would I ever get another chance to study with Terry Miura?
I delayed leaving until lunchtime. I arrive at my mom's in Calgary mid-afternoon. By then I knew I was running a fever. I ached and just wanted to go to bed. But the demo started at 6, so I couldn't. I went to the demo. Luckily I took copious notes, all the time wondering how long this would last and if I was actually going to even live! I left the moment the demo was done. By morning I had no voice whatsoever. I had no choice but to cancel. I was so incredibly disappointed, but there was just no way. Besides it would have been selfish of me to attend and risk spreading those germs from Satan to everyone else at the workshop. I drove back home, in what was probably one of the longest trips home ever. I preceded to spend the entire weekend in bed raging at my bad luck. I was a mess!
By Tuesday I knew I had to get on with it, so dragged myself out of bed with plans to paint my rage. I was just going to let loose at the canvas and let the paint fly fast and furious. I told myself I was so sick it wouldn't if I had to throw the canvas away or not. This was going to be an experiment in expressing my feelings. But a funny thing happened on the way to the easel....
Things started out good. I had this big ol' pile of grey and started slopping paint around in a frenzied stormy sky, pulling a pile out over here to darken, a pile there to warm up, a pile there to lighten, this one's a little cooler..... I laid in a dark swatch for the horizon and separation of land and sky. It needs a couple big trees to break up that solid line. The land is just an anchor to hold up the sky, but it needs to support the overall composition and design too.
Then my thoughts started to drift away from that rage which informed the painting. I was painting....or as I like to say, "in my happy place." And a conversation between canvas and self ensued. "What are those big trees doing there?" "Are we in the mountains or on the prairie?" "Okay - prairie. But you know those trees don't exist on the prairie unless someone's been there to plant and nurture them." "Trees that big had a lot of love to survive the winds, the storms, the droughts, and seasonal hardships year after year after year."
What started out with the intent of expressing my feelings of rage transformed beneath the brush. The very act of trying to paint it made the anger and disappointment disappear. I guess maybe you could say I'm not very good at expressing my inner feelings. Or am I? They changed just as the painting did.