Man creates divisions. Labels and categories. Lists of ingredients that make up our individual peace or community discord. Political parties create further divergence and careers choices further separate our education, lifestyles, even viewpoints. Over here are our scientists, heralded as those to solve the unsolvable while the engineers continuously redesign our pathways and roadways and pipelines and even the vehicles that move us; labeling deems some as teachers in a school building while the rest are only students despite the grey lines these labels cross over within the school building. The law abiding stand on one side of the bars and those who transgress reside firmly on the other yet of late we too often must question the validity of each stance. Bound by these allotments we trudge through our dull days. Yet somehow, almost miraculously, living in defiance to every man-made divider are those that challenge the status quo: the artists existing among us. Instead of maintaining practicality and order, their daring shapes and colors mystify emotion and intellect. In an artist’s hands every medium is played with, messed up, combined anew to create a different vantage. For me, lingering in one sorrow, an afternoon to view the old masters to the new ones is like drinking a nutrient rich and satisfying smoothie, lifting me beyond compartmentalizing into a free floating joy.
An expanse of yellow draws my eye directly into the museum gallery, a soft curve midway on the canvas and I’m taken over by sunshine and fluidity, momentarily swept into happiness. Nothing can weigh you down in the presence of Georgia O’Keeffe’s yellows and oranges. Here no death exists or fracture tears, for even the green line meanders like an old river cutting through earth, that ribbon line circles into an embrace and holds you tightly for a split second. Just long enough. “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” -Georgia O’Keeffe
In contrast is the largest canvas in the show, Rockwell Kent’s “Down to the Sea” fills a wall all its own, a line of dark figures, fishermen headed somewhere, painted in somber blacks and grays stand under a vast violet sky. Their anticipation and trepidation in opposition to their freedom and thrill in sailing away from the shadowy earth and the ladies in white as unattainable as those buoyant clouds above. Away to their own hopes. Maybe watery deaths. Either way a heaven actualized.
Painting after painting we observe, taking in what is offered. Perhaps reading the title, noting the medium and artist notes, chatting about use of space or form or light or color or shape or composition, voicing our reactions in a steady whisper, as if somehow our fleeting experience validates the artist’s labor. At the end of the American Moderns show we each had favorites; I mentally selected four for the subtle nuances they provided. Each wholly different than the next. Right before we left I found I needed one more look to just let my heart be fully penetrated.
Despite the oppressive humidity and unseasonable heat that greeted us as we pushed open the gallery door, our minds remained calm and cool by the concentrated artistry of the show. We ventured around the grounds of the Shelburne Museum renewed, and I felt my previous restrictions crumbling. Vibrant possibility arose. I found myself laughing freely. “Art isn’t paint. It’s Love.”- Philip Hicken.
Dare, all you with an artist’s soul. Break down what is to show what may be. I promise to flourish in the swish of your individual brush, the splash of your particular color, applaud your struggle as you uncover honesty and truth and love and despair and death and every damn emotion we slip on. I am, we are, desperate for your vision. Away from words.
***Dedicated to all the artists who have given their all for us, for beauty, for life, especially my dear one, marnika weiss.