In Art, Nature, and Place: Words

I made art for a long time before I realized that something was speaking in code to my artist. The communications, sometimes barely perceptible, came, willy-nilly, from out of nowhere and everywhere. They showed me the way, guided my hand and hid from me when I got too noisy or busy. Although this embodied know-how never promised a true course, or and informed outcome, I would be impoverished without its contribution to my game plan.

While I was painting landscapes in the Torrey Pines Reserve, I discovered other kinds of coded communications. Essentially, I became fascinated with the ways in which nature orchestrated doing and being. And after spending long hours in the Reserve, I saw how its operations shaped my art and influenced my own way of being.

Within that setting, which was so dear to me, every living thing knew exactly what to do. Birds knew how to be birds, lizards knew how to be lizards, and trees knew how to endure. As that orderliness rubbed off on me, I knew what to do, who to be and how to be. With that kind of knowing, I was able to slip into an untroubled mindfulness that allowed me make art as if nothing else had to happen.

The philosopher, John Dewey, defined place as a setting for transactions of all kinds. In a complex natural environment like Torrey Pines, the thousands of communications between living things should have been deafening, but were, instead, profoundly unobtrusive.

As I realized how things in nature were speaking to other things, it dawned on me that I was in on those whisperings. The fog, for example, that swept into the canyons from the ocean prepared my paper with a layer of moisture that created beautiful wet-into-wet watercolor effects. And when it swallowed me up, I hovered in another dimension, radically alone.

Sometimes, the whole of Torrey Pines felt like another dimension. I was very enamored with the drama of its landscape: canyons that swept to the sea, weather-twisted trees with backdrops of sea and sky. I took those landscape elements, put them on my page and applied my own ordering principles, which in turn became coded communications with a life all their own.

Dewey’s transactions made a lot more sense when I discovered Systems Theory. It described how a vast number of things communicate to get organized. The “things” in a natural setting like Torrey Pines were the parts of nature and all of its parts. And by System standards, things were also abstract phenomena: feedback loops, interconnections, interdependence, self-corrections, and influences. It was enough to make my heart sing.

Ruminations aside, I became an artist who sometimes wished to be as quiet as trees in a place set apart from worldly transactions. The way things spoke in code to my artist appeared to have an uncanny likeness to the cross talking that goes on in natural systems. And, those forces that worked to keep things humming, changing and emergent, however abstract, were miraculously available and alive in my place. I was in it and of it –- in art, in nature and in place.



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