Friday, June 11, 2010

A Setting to Paint

(In which artistic skills are challenged.)

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This is my first post for Locus Focus, a weekly meme hosted by Enbrethiliel on Shredded Cheddar. And for this entry, I chose a part of the British Columbian coast in Susan Vreeland’s The Forest Lover.

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In the morning, with her sketch sack slung over her shoulder, she took a walk far down the beach in the mist. Breathing in sea tang, she felt like her mouth and throat were coated with brine. She looked back at the forest – more dense and tangled and full of mystery than the forested part of Beacon Hill Park at home. How could she ever paint it? No art school taught how to paint such immense, paralyzing magnificence.

- Page 9
Emily Carr sees things “in terms of line and color” and people as “possible paintings”. Her passion for art and her rebellious character eventually brings her to aboriginal villages in an adventure bound to change her whole perspective about art and people.

She sees the “menstrual hut” and some elements of its design stuck her as symbolisms of womanhood; the primitive grave and the bones green with moss on top of ancient boxes and the lush, dark forest and painted them. But when a native saw her paintings, she realized they were just inferior replicas.

As an artist, I understand that the subject of a painting is as important as the quality of the painter’s brushes. The finished artwork has to be something more than sheer beauty and closeness to the original scene. It should be able to tell a story and share feelings. It is easy to be awe-stuck and suddenly inspired when ambushed by an immense beauty. That inspiration will move an artist to transfer the scene on paper or canvas. But drawing the contour and adding layers of colors in a painting is one thing; giving it life and a story is another.

I think most artists share Emily’s dilemma. Artistically producing a two-dimensional version of a magnificent landscape is satisfying, however half-baked. Capturing the scene’s drama is more rewarding yet thought-provoking and risky. The tribal villages and images in it are challenges to artists since their sanctity is difficult to portray in lines and shapes and the mystery and darkness of the forests are more than just tint and shade.