It's March--one of the best times of the year in Interior Alaska. The days are getting rapidly longer. Already, with the early onset of Daylight Savings Time, it's light out until almost 9 p.m., but the snow is still deep and good for skiing, and despite unseasonably warm, even record high temperatures last week, it's mostly pristine, unbroken, all-covering in the forest.
I continue to paint what has now become an extensive series of views in which I'm looking directly into that ever-brightening sun--paintings that I think of as "epiphanies." As almost always, I didn't set out to do a series, but began with something I noticed, realized that there were other ways I could do it and other things to explore about it, and one day looked up to find my studio full of paintings on a theme. My friend Len Edgerly asked me a couple of years ago how I know when a series is finished. After thinking about it, I realized that what happens is that one day I find myself, instead of thinking, "Which of my hundred ideas about this do I want to explore next?" thinking, "O.K., what else can I do along these lines?" When I hear myself ask that latter question, I know the series is done. Fortunately, by that time, if not before, there's always something else that's driving me crazy that I want to explore.
One of the things I've noticed about March is that every year, I suddenly become aware of skies again. It seems like all winter long, I'm attuned to the quality of the light, and I watch the changing trajectory of the sun, but the clouds are rarely active or interesting. It's often overcast, snowing, or perfectly clear. Sometimes a bank of clouds covers part of the sky, and is moving into the region or out. But seldom are there active patterns in the clouds, baroque forms and colors that grab my attention, elaborate, complex, ever-shifting structures in the sky.
In March, all those things return, and I'm knocked out, day after day, by the variety and splendor of the display. Nearly every spring I make images of the sky, usually at dawn or dusk, and I do the same thing again in fall, when twilight and darkness begin to return after months of continuous light.
So, one day a couple of weeks ago I found myself pulling out my oil pastels--the medium I most often employ to respond directly, explore, react to new phenomena, new places, or sights I haven't thought about for a while. I hadn't done any of the epiphany paintings of direct sun in oil pastels, and it was a delight to play with the stark light of the bright spring sun, backlighting the spruces that surround Smith Lake, making them darker than ever, and casting flickering, multi-hued afterimages at their margins.
Just last week I agreed with a couple from Seattle to undertake for them a new private commission--two paintings of low, bright sunlight breaking through the forest, dematerializing the trees in one panel and casting shadows on the forest in the other. The two paintings will hang somewhat apart, and will function almost as "windows" in the room where they will hang them, appearing to look out onto a scene that's continuous, but because it's not shown in its entirety, doesn't match edge-to-edge. I did something similar for a public art commission I completed several years ago for an upper floor lobby in the Rabinowitz Courthouse in Fairbanks, and found the challenge intriguing, so I'm looking forward to tackling it again in the context of these new "epiphany" paintings.
Thinking about that commission has energized my skiing forays in the woods this week. I've been looking for sun at just the right angle, for a scene that affords the kind of foreground forest scaffolding I like for the sun to penetrate, and adjoining ground on which the light coming right toward me can cast lights and shadows that are interesting in themselves. The sun will be lower than in this little study, and the woods almost certainly more open, but as usual, I'm finding new delights while searching for the image in my head. And I hope that also, as usual, I'll end up with an image that does what I wished for, but in a way I'd never anticipated.