These are images drawn deep in my memory. I grew up in Del Mar, California, on a bluff over Pacific Coast Highway. I used to cross PCH at 5 AM, cross the railway tracks and slide down the sandstone trails to sit on a rock and listen to the ocean, watching the light as the sun rose behind me. I saw the sunset over the ocean almost every evening, to where it was background. The light and the color, though, that seeped into my soul…
This is a series of 105 (or so) images. They are drawn from distance.
The distance between warm sun and a freezing blast of winter.
The distance of time and of experience.
The distance between father and daughter.
The distance between representative and abstract.
The actual distance in space.
The distance between alive and warm and cold and gone.
The painting series was begun as a request from my daughter. She wanted a painting. She lived in California, in the South Beach area of Los Angeles. I asked her to take a sunset picture. I painted other paintings. The photographs did not arrive.
I found symbolic memories. A photo of wind-blown grass. A weathered staircase ascending and descending a hill, the hillside dropping to the Pacific Coast. A photo of an umbrella in sand across distance. This was the people, shading themselves from the heat of the sun, running out into the cold Pacific and then back to shade. And a photo of the sky. The brilliant colors, the reflections across the water of the sunset.
I grew up on the California coast, in San Diego. I watched sunset after sunset, in the heat of summer evening, in the crisp cool of winter afternoons. I imprinted the warmth and the impact of color.
I painted the first sunset. I painted it in the beginnings of winter, the first chills in the air. I painted through dark evenings, in a basement studio with a vista of radiator pipes and the endless low rumble of an oil furnace staving off chill temperatures in the 20′s.
I painted finding a path between the crisp reference image photographs provided and the abstract intensity of emotion and color. I painted for a daughter who was distant in space, still present in the place of my memory. I painted in longing for warmth and light.
I sent the painting to my daughter. I painted another sunset, this one more pointedly from my memories of living in a beach town, referenced again against the crisp concise frame of photographs. I could feel the emotion in the light and the color, the distance between New England and the coast of California. I could feel the distance between myself and my daughter. I could also feel the shared experiences we have.
I started painting in Los Angeles at about age 16. I had drawn and painted and created all of my life, but not focused. I painted from age 16 to age 22, and then stopped. Cold. I have photographs of people in my life then, of walls with early oil paintings hanging on them, simple instructive still lives, and figure studies. I simply stopped from 1982 through 2003.
I told my daughter that she didn’t have to focus on four years of college and try to wrap up the path of a life immediately. That life was a journey, long if you are lucky, but not guaranteed. No need to hurry through it, let it develop.
In 2003 I went out to California to visit my daughter. We drove from Los Angeles down to Del Mar and to La Jolla, and walked the route I had walked as a child to the beach, down to the bottom of the hill, cutting through to Pacific Coast Highway, across the traffic, down the steep hills to the railroad tracks, and then down to the expanse of sand. I walked with her through my elementary school, which had and still has an ocean view. We had breakfast on a patio overlooking PCH with the beach and ocean beyond, with pop art animals and dogs allowed at the tables. I walked with her the route my dad, my stepmother and my baby sister walked when I was 14, down to La Jolla Shores. I showed her the tidepools I used to wade in along the rocks.
I came back, and I was unable to talk from the emotional hit that distance in space from my daughter and in time from both her and from my childhood brought.
I went to look for what the hell I was supposed to be doing this life.
I bought oils and brushes. I found the class I had taken in drawing all those years ago was now on DVD. I took it again, recalling from the motion of charcoal all that I had left behind. I sat at a drawing horse and sketched, I recovered life drawing skills. I came back to where I had left off at UCLA and then private art instruction. I started painting. I resumed painting.
In the intervening years I had drawn and sketched projects for clients, photographed family events and created a woodworking portfolio. I had done graphic design for several short-lived partnerships, and carefully hung the paintings I had done in the late seventies and early eighties where I could see them. I had discovered I was a writer. I wrote between 1987 and 2001, writing to get better. I did get much better,but it never gelled, it never felt like I was a part of it. It was forced.
Painting is not. I show up, I stand before the canvas and I trust the muses to show up to. And they do so.
In 2007 I sent my daughter sunset #1. In 2011, on January 3rd after a year-long battle with leukemia, Ashley Lyn passed away. So now there is that distance. The distance between life and the beyond-life that is hers, now.
The paintings hold that distance between abstract and realism. If you move close, the paint dissolves into motion and texture and gesture. Life, held close dissolves into motion and chaos, in distance there appears a sense of the whole.
The painting should NOT be a literal presentation of reality – certainly not photographic – a photograph is a drawing-by-light, drawing by controlled-and-engineered-reflection-of-light, an abstraction of reality, missing motion and limited in scope by frame of view. A painting is an abstraction of light, movement, color, perspective and emotional and aesthetic impact. It can add an intangible and intuitive motion/emotion, an aesthetic harmony that communicates to a depth a straight representation misses.
Life should not be lived linearly either.