I worked on the large canvas Birches Bare for more than a month. Like many of my recent images, it's part of an ongoing "conversation" between my paintings and a series of poems by my friend, former Alaska Poet Laureate Peggy Shumaker. She writes a poem, and I make a painting in response to it. She writes a poem in reply to that painting, and I paint in answer to it. Each painting or poem is a response to the last. The exhibition we'll have together at the Alaska Humanities Forum in Anchorage in September will afford an opportunity for visitors to eavesdrop on that yearlong conversation.
I am not thinking so much about making a consistent body of work for this show as immersing myself in the conversation. I can only paint what I paint, and the way I paint, but what I'm trying to do is immerse myself in each of Peggy's poems as they arrive. I read the new arrival many times, over weeks, and then one day, I go to work in my studio in response to it. I never know, when I begin, what that response will be, and my surprise at what emerges is one of the chief pleasures of this collaboration.
Birch trunks stand in for people in my work, and Birches Bare--like the poem to which it replies--is a drama. Dark, aggressive branches jut from trunks bright with life but scarred by living. Out of those dark limbs, tiny spring leaves of renewed life bud, slowly swell, and prepare to unfurl, just as they are doing this week outside my studio window.
I started painting Panoply almost five years ago. Struck by a particularly gorgeous birch I saw one day while running in the forest, I decided to compose on canvas, in a vertical stripe, a little song of praise to its exceptional beauty. I put the painting away and tried to forget about it until many months later, when I found myself staring at another trunk on a different trail. I added a laud to the new trunk in a new, slimmer stripe, and I put the painting away again. For nearly five years I've put it away and brought it out, adding canticles each time a new birch pelt struck me with wonder unexpectedly.
Just this month I filled the last slot on the canvas. I like that it's a kind of five-year chronicle of being surprised by delight.
Two small paintings I have completed since my last post represent two sides of the way I'm affected by winter.
Morning is the view across our front yard as we complete the climb home on the wooded trail behind our house, at the end of our winter runs. The sun rises late, barely east of due south, and it backlights the trees, casting shadows our way as we crest the ridge on which we live. I often stand in the driveway for a minute or more, not so much catching my breath as drinking in those rays.
This kind of light is one of the reasons we not only plan to stay in Fairbanks, but have no interest in "snowbirding"--spending months of each winter in a warmer clime. We'd so miss this ethereal, explicitly seasonal light.
Dreaming in March represents another aspect of winter--especially late winter--for me. Though I'm less conscious of it than I am of winter's beauty, by early spring I think every year I'm starved for color.
By March, the Northern world has been blindingly, sublimely white for six months or more, and though it's perhaps my favorite time of year, I think some part of me longs for other brilliant hues. Sooner or later, perenially, I find myself dreaming of, and painting, landscapes filled with the rich chromas of the nearly forgotten fall.