Wednesday, April 30, 2008

(31) First Leaves

11 x 14” watercolor on 300 pound cold press paper
Not for sale - click HERE for reprints and cards

Late April, 2008. I am fascinated in how the mind interprets images. From the outer world (visual environment or what we see) our images cross each retina (if we have two eyes) then stream through nerves to the geniculate region of the brain and finally reach the primary visual cortex towards the back of the brain). What happens when the images reach the cortex? Why is it that what we see is not what we comprehend? All last year I saw branches, twigs, and leaves flanking many of the images I painted, which caused me a great deal of anxiety. How do I paint such a mesh of objects? I balked at painting images that seemed like so much work and impossible to represent. My eyes took in the images from the outer world and my mind saw only chaos.

Then I came upon a painting, actually a reprint of a painting, by Monet “The Reader which hung above a bathroom sink in a building where I was teaching a one day class. While washing my hands at the sink, I began to examine the painting. I saw the main subject of the painting (a young girl with a furled dress) sitting against a thicket of brush and branches. Suddenly I realized that what I saw was actually a wash of color (gray, green and brown) with well painted lines to represent the branches. It suddenly made sense to me. What I saw and what I interpreted was not the same. My retinas saw a wash of color with angled lines while back in the cortex my experiences said "thickets of trees". At a cognitive level I knew this, however, my fears kept me from relaxing and see the “washes of color” from the trees.

With this new interpretation of my outer world I sat down later that day (April 25, 2008) in the orchard, facing west just south and west of the runway, and painted an apple tree with just a week’s worth of leaf growth showing. In the background are the trees and young growth of spring with only a flush of foliage. I applied the washes of burnt sienna and gray with a few strokes to represent the trunks and branches. The sky was streaked with dark blue and gray clouds. Mid way through the painting a small triangular rainbow appeared just above the tree, which I desperately attempted to capture. I found enjoyment swirling the paint as I represented the twisting bark of the apple tree. And yet it was the new found freedom in representing the wooded background with broad swaths of color that made the painting for me ... I imagined my cortex smiling.