the marsh, wedged between the ocean and the inter-coastal waterway
weathered salt (red) cedar trunk with perennial glasswort
While at the beach in North Carolina, I like to turn my back on the long row of beach houses and follow the winding game trails out into the marsh. It is a type of selective experience not unlike the viewing of a painting– a decision to forget about what is behind you, and to be absorbed into that which fills your cone of vision. The differences between distant observation and actual immersion are striking. Everything is crisp and bristly in the marsh. What seemed solid now compresses, and what seemed still now moves. With each crunching step I play the role of mythic monster as thousands of fiddler crabs flee before me, comical in their bumping and stumbling. The marsh is a subtle topography of low and lower, the subdivisions most noticeable in firmness of footing and shifts in flora. Glasswort gives way to cord grass, which then inches up into black needle rush. The plants tolerate varying degrees of immersion during tidal flooding, so small shifts in elevation can result in significant shifts in plant life. The marsh is well stocked with edible plants, including the glasswort pictured above. More seductive is the passion fruit, which unfortunately was not yet ripe. I saw passion flowers for the first time while living in Key West, FL. Initially I mistook it for a fake flower, so strange and wonderful was the bloom.
a passion flower, in all of its ridiculous glory
passion fruit hanging from the vine
a gulf-fritillary catepillar devouring the leaf of a passion flower
Southern Fox Grape
Pindo Palm fruit
Southern Fox (muscadine) grapes lined the marsh invasively, climbing over anything and everything available. They ripen to a deep purple, but even the green ones can be refreshing in the heat of summer. The fruit of the Pindo Palm is also quite good, and the tree is often used residentially for landscaping.
blew (feather), ink and tempera on paper, 12x 17.5, 2009
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.