The Kiss of Life

The Kiss of Life

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings
Love and Beauty, egg tempera painting of venus over the ocean at dawn by Daniel Ambrose. 2004

Love and Beauty, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose. 2004 Private Collection.

Last January, my daughter called at twilight wanting to know the name of a bright star.

Venus, I replied. The evening star.

I was in the process of reworking a painting with Venus in it that I wrote about in Before I Sleep.

Our conversation brought to mind an egg tempera painting I made of Venus in 2004. Love and Beauty.

On my birthday, in 2004, I ventured down to the beach at three-thirty in the morning. The sea was darker than a pirate’s heart. The moist predawn air carried a breeze pregnant with salt. I walked the shore in the velvet darkness, and felt the cool sand sink beneath my feet. My only companions were the sound of the surf, and a lone, brilliant light in the eastern sky.

Venus.

By that sea, that morning, I was waiting for the first blush of dawn. Watching for that barely perceptible moment when transition occurs. That liminal space in time when dark becomes light. A world devoid of color becomes luminous. Just as in life, that precise moment when awareness comes, and hope and renewal are born and possibility springs to life. The kiss of life.

Darkness eased off, and for a moment, a pale glow trimmed the horizon, a ribbon of pink caressed the sea. Quick, but with care, I laid her colors down in my sketchbook. Later in the studio, I created the painting Love and Beauty.

Not all of us are born out of love. Not all of us have beauty in our lives. But we can make it so.

A kind word of praise or pardon, a passing touch on a shoulder, a note or flower presented with coffee in the morning, a smile across a crowded room, can make his day. A few encouraging words, a listening heart, can change her stars.

There is beauty in kindness. There is love in quiet deeds. Come together and let the sound of your hearts beat among the silence of the stars.

We can be a bright light in our personal universe. Though we may never know who is watching us from afar, who is inspired by our words and deeds — who is holding us in their heart.

Love is energy connecting at the speed of light.

Beauty is a guiding star.

Be the kiss of life.

For someone.

For you.

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Finding My Way Home

Finding My Way Home

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings

Rosehips and the Light, field study, oil painting.

I lean my back against a sun-warmed rock and feel the heat leak into my bones. Just breathe.

Just leave me here, scattered among relics of the sea; purple mussel shells, golden kelp and speckled granite. Slake my thirsty soul with saltwater, and shake my body out along crumbling shores of ageless black rocks. Let me lie under green boughs of pointed firs, bedrock land where osprey circle and cry under a hallowed blue sky.

Here is a truth far from promises and lies. A natural truth I can understand.

Sometimes I think life is a wonderful dream. People and places revolve in a kaleidoscope of colors and light. I remember laughing and talking, painting and eating with all my friends at Nanatuck. The sun was shining, moonlight sparkled on Maine water. Then came a rainy night in Boston when yellow doorways pooled their wet light on cobblestones, and gleamed on iron grill-work. When midday sun made saints dance on stained glass windows of an old stone church, and a coyote loped though suburban lawns on a Saturday afternoon.

There were flowers and other fine things. Things that can’t be bought nor stolen. Things that come unbidden, without notice, come like a wild animal to those who sit quietly in the forest.

Did I dream that I painted among rocks and harbor shacks, painted in the sunlight and wind? Drew seascapes in pencil in a Boston studio, perched above gray rooftops amid ancient brick walls?

Where is that border crossing in time when reality become memory? Is reality truer than memory if memory lives longer than the moment? Minutes of reality may inspire Art, but memory can make Art live for centuries.

There once was a light here, of that I am certain. A timeless muse that moved between the spaces of my life. I saw her slipping behind rosehips, and skipping down the stairs like a rabbit, moving among tender mint leaves one morning, and reflecting off the glass of a Sargent watercolor on a Sunday afternoon.

My muse is known by many names, but particular to me, her name means Light. She is my north star. She sleeps in my bones and walks through my dreams. Alone, in the quiet studio hours with my paintings, I leave the limited world of words, and slip into her galaxies of gentle sighs of color and moans of light.

Maybe it was true as some like to say. In the glare of this southern light, I was lost and could not find my way. Still, I know the painted road my muse keeps me on is right and true.

In the searching pathway’s my brush weaves through my paintings.

I have found my way home.

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The Profound Beauty of Silence

The Profound Beauty of Silence

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings
Drift Inn Beach, Port Clyde, Maine. Oil Painting by Daniel Ambrose

Two Trees, Drift Inn beach, Port Clyde, Maine. Oil painting by Daniel Ambrose

Sometimes words are too shadowy to describe the luminous spectrum of life experiences. When words fail, all that remains is the profound beauty of silence.

The need to express the ineffable existed in humans long before we invented the written word. We communicated in symbols and gestures. We burnt sticks and drew pictures on earthen walls, sharpened rocks to etch figures in stone.

What compelled us to do these things? To bring forth images that only lived inside ourselves, to birth beautiful things that lived not in the world, until we created them? What purpose did art serve in our evolutionary upbringing?

Does our art emanate from the same source as our instinct for spirituality? Will scientists someday identify the exact atom of inspiration? Where does this spark of creativity live in our bodies? Or. . . maybe our creative impulse resides in every molecule of our very being.

Maybe the art of humans is the blood and bone of everything we are, all that we have lived, cried over and cursed at, moments we laughed with others or lied to ourselves. Moments of awareness that shook us to the core.

Last week I returned from Maine, by way of Boston. During my trip I spent a lot of time drawing. Drawing focuses my rabbit mind. Something about pencil pressing on paper imprints the image in my mind. Typically I take notes too, but I wrote very little. I simply drew to remember this.

For maybe drawn memories are more viable truth tellers of the human experience than accurate recording of places.

I began a new tempera the day after I returned. The inspiration came out of the blue, and I have been working on it day and night for six days. It is mostly memory. I intended to post it and share my thoughts, but found I have no words. Only the painting can speak for me in the beauty of its silence.

So instead I’m sharing a painting I made in Port Clyde at Drift Inn beach over several mornings. I left this painting in Boston, but kept the memory.

Maybe in our brief lives here on earth, our art is simply the deepest expression of all that we witness and love.

Maybe we don’t need to know all the answers to everything. Embracing the sublime mystery of wordless things, and celebrating them through our art is enough to honor the profound beauty of silence.

I’ll leave you quietly with a poem from Longfellow:

The Sound of the Sea
The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain’s side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.

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Painting a Blue Sky After Tropical Storm

Painting a Blue Sky After Tropical Storm

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings

For the past month I’ve been on the west side of Florida. I came here to study the shoreline and sunsets on the Gulf. I’ve got a solo show in January of major oil paintings and wanted to create a body of work from a specific coastal place.

To know a thing I need to live with it for a time.

So I settle in and start looking at stuff. No hurry, no pressure to paint right away. Just observe the daily comings and goings of clouds and birds and bunnies in the grass, and compare color relationships. Every place has its own tone, and color palette.

Last weekend a tropical storm blew through the island.

Pristine Blue, oil color sketch of Venice beach, Florida, by Daniel Ambrose

Pristine Blue, oil color sketch.

While having coffee on the patio the next morning, I noticed the blueness of the sky. A rich, pristine blue. As if the storm had purged all the dirt from the air, and a divine hand had polished the atmosphere.

Dang! I need to paint this!

I hightailed it to the beach with my oil paints and sketchbook.

It was early morning still and the sky was already beginning to warm near the horizon. It was beginning to pale. I rapidly rubbed color on the paper, spreading blue around. Give the sky the largest space, just let that blue pour down.

Pristine blue.

Simply painting light in quick color notes.

The two sketches below represent ways of handling light in different mediums.

Path to the sea, quick pen and ink sketch of palmettos and sea oats by Daniel Ambrose

Path to the sea, quick pen and ink sketch

I was itching to try a new drawing pen, so I returned to a scene that I had already painted. I concentrated on the darker masses and indicated the sunlit areas with a few gestural marks of my pen. It’s just a quick 10 minute sketch and nothing like his incredible pen and ink study in the photo below by Albrecht Durer.

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer

Though I am in awe of masterful pen and ink drawings like these Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer, I find that I still prefer the feel of pencil on paper for drawing tones.

Willet, pencil sketch by Daniel Ambrose

Willet, pencil sketch

So I followed the dune path in my pen drawing to the beach and found this bird at the edge of the sea. Brilliant sunlight on the water presented the bird as a dark form. This type of back lighting is called “contre-jour,” French for “against daylight.” I made a quick sketch with my favorite pencil.

Tomorrow I head back to the east coast and then on to Maine to join my friends. I’ve got a sketchbook full of studies, and a head full of ideas. I’ve already begun a 30 x 60 oil and will show it to you soon.

Until then, have a safe and joyful summer. Try to find a few moments to spend by the water. Any water.

It will do you good.

I’ll leave you with this song from my southern youth. Blue Sky, by the Allman Brothers.

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Waiting Out a Storm, Oil Sketch as Evening Falls

Waiting Out a Storm, Oil Sketch as Evening Falls

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings
After the rain, oil sketch of Venice, Fl beach and clouds by Daniel Ambrose

After the storm as evening falls, oil sketch from the journals of Daniel Ambrose

Sitting in a cafe, cup of black coffee in hand, hardcover sketchbook open on a thick wood table, I wait out a tropical storm. Reviewing recent drawings of the local beach, and making notes from a book I’m currently reading by Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Mindful Living.

Lightning and wind have been lashing the area all morning. Churning up white waves on a typically placid sea. Through the cafe’s blurry windows, gray and ghostlike objects emerge then melt away.

The Lumineers Cleopatra drifts over the rainstorm—”. . . I was late, late for this, late for that. . . and when I die. . . I’ll be on time.”

Diamond Sutra from the British Library

Diamond Sutra from the British Library

In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book he mentions the Diamond Sutra. Over 1,000 years old, it is the world’s oldest dated printed book and resides in the British Museum. I order a translated copy from Amazon via my phone. Order a thousand year old text in seconds on a tiny electronic device with more computing power than NASA used to put Neil Armstrong on the moon. In a few moments this ancient text is delivered to my Kindle. With a few clicks ignorance is abolished.

While some good things remain.

At a counter running lengthwise along the cafe windows, a young couple eat breakfast. They get ready to leave. He takes off his camouflage coat and places it over her shoulders. She stands and slips her arms through its sleeves. He pulls the hood up over her head and cinches it snug. She turns and smiles at him.

Lord Huron sings, “I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you. . .”

The couple walk through the door into the rain and disappear in the mist.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. . . ”

Almost 13 million dollars were spent this year restoring sand to storm ravaged beaches around here. There is talk of desirable sand supplies being depleted. Communities are running out of sand and money. Last year, federal legislators passed the Water Resources Development Act that allows funds to study if it’s feasible to bring sand in from foreign shores like the Bahamas.

I wonder how the Bahamians would feel about it.

Billions of pounds of garbage are accumulating in vast rafts in the ocean, billions of tiny particles of plastic are gathering on our shores. Plastic that was not there when I played on the beach as a child.

Electronic devices that become gateways to enlightenment did not exist when I was a child. Become gateways to needless distraction or knowledge. Gateways to awareness.

The communities restore beach sand to protect property values and tourism revenues. The sand is covering up ancient shark’s teeth sun seekers like to collect. I wonder if plastic particles will outnumber sharks teeth in the near future. Million year old shark teeth versus half a century old plastic.

What will writers and other artists of the future say about our time?

The rain is slacking, the sky is breaking apart and I am going to paint the beach after this storm.

Or is the storm just beginning to gather?

I close my sketchbook, push back my chair and get up to leave.

Lord Huron trails me out the door. . .

“I am not the only traveler. . . .”

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Painting the Sound of a Seaside Morning

Painting the Sound of a Seaside Morning

The Art of Daniel Ambrose

Hauntingly Beautiful Paintings
Oil sketch recording seaside morning color sensations, Venice Beach, Fl.

Color notes. Oil sketch recording seaside color sensations.

Seaside Morning

The sun is gleaming on the the water. Far out on the horizon, a rolling thunderstorm grumbles over the Gulf. Nearer to shore, cumulus clouds drift in a silent, lazy train.

I am surrounded by textures, immersed in patterns, forms repeat in various incarnations. Floating, curving and ever shifting forms. The moist air of clouds. Springy sea oats. Their lean lines curve and bow, and paint lacy patterns of blue gray on the warm, pale gray sand.

Ageless sand, coarse and fine and formed from innumerable shell and fossil fragments. Solid earth planted beneath a gaseous sky. Shells from the sea, water from outer space, and sun, always the sun, the color of light, the color of life.

Sparse, short grasses blanket the beach in patches. Slight mounds of warm green, dry domes of terse texture contrast with the upright dignity of swaying sea oats. If they were a language, the short grass would be the sturdy, slang, everyday words, while the sea oats would sing songs of poetry. Vivid yellow dune flowers embellish the melody like the high clear notes of a flute. All is a symphony of sound, shape and color.

Rambling morning glories weave themselves under the sea oats, competing for attention. Rambling and reaching their sienna tendrils out to lay claim to new territory. Bright, yellow-green oblong leaves show off tubular purple flowers. A morning dove wanders among the morning glory. Its feathered body casts a long blue shadow in the slanted sunlight. With a squeak and a flutter it flies away. Seacoast sounds.

Whispering sounds, the lapping of gentle waves, crickets in the grasses, birds sing in tune with the melody of this seaside morning.

The sun is getting hotter. The tide is rising. A breeze begins to stir from the sea.

I may go for a swim.

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