There is no moment of more intense color and beauty than a sunset in California. The light is perfect for just that moment and then changes and that instant is gone.
SUNSETS are a synthesis of that moment. You come up over the hill, and you see a moment of sunset, you feel an inner awe at the color and the intensity, you try to hold time still, to grab for the camera, to hold it in your mind. The sun sinks and the light changes and that supreme aesthetic, that moment you found resonant is gone.
In that moment of trying to hold and encompass, you widen the senses, to grab the panorama. Instead of concentrating on the colors and center and light over the ocean, you widen your attention and focus. The sunset is clear, but you also try to hold the periphery – road, sand, sidewalk, trees, silhouettes of buildings, the bright light cascading across, the color tinges from the experience. All of that.
If I painted photographically, the scene would look crystal clear. You would see the clarity of each item or the calculated blur. Take a photograph of a sunset – it will remind you of the memory of that, but it won’t do more than suggest the experience.
That moment of focus, of seeing the center and widening your awareness and consciousness to try and include the whole scene and experience and memory – that’s what these are.
Expressionism, abstract, but with reference to representation and form and space.
My growing up was sunsets. I was born in Berkeley, California. Almost immediately I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, in Eugene, Oregon, and in Urbana, Illinois. At the age of seven I moved from the flat anonymous suburbs of Illinois, where the highest elevation was a pile of dirt left on the vacant land at the edge of the subdivision, to Del Mar, California, a town on the coast of California north of San Diego.
I used to wake up at 5:00 AM, to cold light and fog, and sneak out across the back deck, down the path to the carport, out the driveway, down the hill to the path through to Pacific Coast Highway, dart across 101, out to the bluffs, down across the railway tracks, down stairs or path or rough trails in iceplant to the sandstone bluff and then the sand – clear expanses of endless sand stretching in my imagination north to Canada, south to the Chilean coast.
Early morning almost always meant fog, burning off through the day.
To paint the experience of a sunset.
A sunset is that expansion of perception and focus, widened to perceive the sunset, that aesthetic form, and as wide a focus of perception around and beyond that as possible in an effort to freeze the moment and capture a full sense of it.
That effort moves toward the realization of an ecstatic perceptive experience – and as a visually oriented being (can you tell?) I try to become part of that experience – that’s the sunset I want to communicate. Sunsets actually. This is the product of watching and falling in love all over again with the sun through clouds and sky descending to the ocean to the west. I hope it comes through.
A painting should be a communication, profound and deep at best, to the core of the spirit.
The ultimate sunset would be a resonance of the perceptions I experience in seeing the original, experiencing the original – sight is easy, that’s direct reflected light and accuracy of perception – but that exact reflection, that’s not the experience. The artist adds and subtracts to bring about a communication of experience and vision.
So what is my sunset? It is a viewpoint of experience hitting harmony and gestural movement of paint and illusion of form and space, non-specific enough to invite the placing of form and space by the audience, but clear enough to direct the senses and the viewpoint into my world at that moment. Like music, it is visceral, felt communication, there should be an element of ecstatic experience, transcendence.
Rothko said better to tell less than more, and reduced his elements to more and more simplicity.
If I take a picture to capture an aesthetic moment – that simple photograph, without context and explanation, falls short in bring across that experience to someone else seeing it separately – my intention in painting is to bring about that additional communication of context and viewpoint – as if I explained vividly the entire context and experience. Art has the ability to transcend being a literal visual experience and to become much more, magical, and communicate experience in full.
To freeze a moment of aesthetic in time, to hold it and express that reaching to hold it in the mind in time, that exultation at the beauty and then that realization that it will be gone, changed, and that wishing to hold the experience. That’s the intention behind the images in this series.
The contrast between New England and the West Coast of California…
Looking at DelMar in Google Earth – a tremendous feeling of nostalgia, longing, sorrow and loss for something that at the time was just – there. Uprooted from Illinois, planted in California, great, there’s a beach, and a lifestyle unapproachable anywhere else – an amazing childhood environment, both in time and in space. But it was just there. I was awed by the sunsets despite that lack of context. I am awed by the sunsets.
I am an ex-pat, an expatriate. There is a tension is finding sunsets to express from a West Coast view of the world, while living in New England. This sense of distance, of separation, and the bridging of that, is part of this series. The warmth and glow of these images is emotionally acute when there is a fresh 6′ snowfall outside the window and a temperature of 17 degrees.
Time is a constant acquiring of new experience from one look at it. And an immense abyss of loss ongoing and continuous from a different viewpoint.
Sunsets are archetypal, generalized through simplified form – details picked up and suggested to the viewer through gestures in paint. Surface texture, gestural, painterly, form and color all working toward a generalized and slightly abstracted idea of a sunset. Order from initial chaos. Texture and form that pulls to the surface, but a whole that suggests progression into space.
Demonstrating the ethereal beauty of a sunset and through that both the timelessness in that moment as spiritual and ephemeral in the effort to hold it still and fail, showing it as failed.
…and he walked into a great sandstone building. “oooooffff. My nose…” Nick Danger, 3rd Eye
Many years in Los Angeles – I can still hear freeway traffic as a background noise. An hallucinated, auditory presence, recovered with the memory of half my life.
I sit on the porch in the evening here in the Northeast, and compare East to West – to Los Angeles. I recall the light at the end of the day, the gradual deepening blue and then azure and grey. The color of the sky at last light over the ocean, a cloudy grey-pink . The desert wind. The dry heat. The smell of rain falling on oil-soaked parched streets, hard and fast and steaming as the drops hit the pavement. The brightness at night, 470 square miles of streetlight-after-streetlight-after-streetlight banishing the stars and giving the evening sky a glow like distorted and twisted moonlight.
I saw stars in Los Angeles once. The 1994 earthquake woke me up and threw me out of bed at 4:30 AM in the morning. It cut off all the power through the Los Angeles basin, the only lights were from cars on the road. Unable to go back to sleep, I lay in the bed of my pickup truck, watching a depth of stars in the heavens usually only seen in the desert, far away from the city. They are always there but never seen, blocked.
Los Angeles, which is described in the new edition of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as being like several thousand square miles of American Express junk mail, but without the same sense of moral depth. Plus the air is, for some reason, yellow.
~Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
I’m working through an ocean/sunset painting. The quality of light is interesting to bring into a painting. Hollywood HAD to be in this area – the light is so different from anywhere else. There is more of it. It is whiter, more intense. This is added to at the beach by the reflection back of light from sand and water. And the colors in a sunset – enhanced by the haze of particles in the air – looks like it couldn’t actually be in anything but an imagined world.
Last trip out to L.A., I took pictures, but not with the good cameras, with a small digital. The days were hazy, cloudy in the morning and never that spectacular light California is capable of. I’m working from memories and from impressions and from snapshots here and there.
Nothing IS California like the long pathways along the beach and the beach communities. Laguna Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, and further south, La Jolla, DelMar, Solana Beach, Oceanside, Carlsbad. The proximity of the ocean becomes an integral part of your world. I oriented things based on the direction to the Pacific, it was an enormous presence always there in the back of my mind. That direction is the ocean, the sea, a huge expanse of space to the horizon. Even on the other side of the country, that’s still where I feel the ocean in my mind.
East vs. West – much of the California Beaches are public access. Few are private. The broad swatches of sand – not available on the East coast – much of the beach in the North East is a place where the bitterly cold Atlantic reaches a rocky shore and broad expanses of sand aren’t available. Broad expanses of mud flats. But not the soft white surface of a Pacific beach.
If the first paintiing creates a path for a series of images, maybe I can paint the recall of warmth and sun through a New England winter.
…this is from “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger”, Firesign Theatre’s brilliant spoof of private eye radio programs.
Here’s the whole scene:
“NARRATOR: Los An-ge-les, he walks again by night.
Out of the fog, into the smog. (cough)
(NICK: I wonder where Ruth is),
toward his weekly meeting with…
At Fourth and Drucker he turns left.
At Drucker and Fourth he turns right.
He crosses MacArthur Park and walks into a great sandstone building
(NICK: ooh – my
Groping for the door (ring)
he steps inside (ring)
climbs the thirteen steps to his office (ring).
He walks in (ring). He’s ready for mystery (ring).
He’s ready for excitement (ring).
He’s ready for anything (ring).
He’s… (answers phone)
“NICK: ‘Nick Danger, third eye.’
“CALLER: ‘I want to order a pizza to go and no anchovies.’
“NICK: ‘No anchovies? You’ve got the wrong man. I spell my name Danger!’