Last week I spent a morning in the Study Room at the Saint Louis Art Museum soaking up a few of the accomplishments of Zha Shibiao, Dai Xi, and Lu Yanshao. Lu’s album of landscapes was particularly significant to me, and provided a serendipitous escape from the frustrations that I have been facing in my own ink paintings. The paintings in the album alternate between monochromatic and colored works. And while there is an element of consistency, each piece manages to shift mood and focus in an unexpected way. By the time I had worked my way through the painting of Dai Xi and the calligraphy of Zha Shibiao I was convinced that the energy and precision of the painted line was the critical ingredient missing from my own work. As much as I love the flowing washes, they are air with no stone and flesh with no bone. So I decided to get back to that line, and to clarity.
The previous weekend I had spent some time in Forest Park with my daughter. While sketching by the water, I saw a feather that had gotten caught in a spider web among the reeds. It became a natural weather-vane, pointing out the wind’s direction but never following along. Although I made a short video of the event, I prefer the natural stillness of the painting. In describing the feather’s arrested motion over time, the video describes the presence of the otherwise invisible web. The still image locks the feather into the center of its gaze where scrutiny of the object precedes explanation of the scene. I transported the feather (by way of imagination) to the South Carolina marsh that I love so much, where the pulse of the tide takes the place of the shifting wind– known best by its presence or absence, not by the activity of transition.