Passion, egg tempera on panel
Suffering from blank brains and scrambling for ideas for an upcoming show at Cheryl Newby Gallery, it was suggested to me that I paint a pomegranate.
Typically, a subject has to speak to me—something about it must resonate at an unconscious level before I’m moved to paint it.
Which is the ineffable thing about inspiration that continually mystifies me. Love is this way too.
One moment my mind is void of images and ideas—the next moment—a flash appears, a vision! The energy begins to flow. It’s like a great curtain is suddenly lifted and a beautiful world of possibilities unfold. Yes! Let’s go here! Let’s do this! A smile begins to spread across my face.
But that hadn’t happened. Not yet.
Since this suggestion came from an imaginative sprite who knows me well, I went to the grocery store to check out pomegranates. The pickings were slim; fleshy and soft, spotted skins, wrinkled like worn leather. I grabbed one anyway.
I set it up in the studio and studied it for two days. It was ugly and unappealing.
Seeking a finer substitute, I went to the health food store to see if they had pomegranates. Deep crimson and scarlet colored ones with firm flesh got my juices flowing. I plucked out two and brought them back to the studio.
Placing one of these prettier pomegranates next to the soft wrinkled one, I studied them together for a couple more days.
Finally I tore the ugly one open to see the inside. The flesh tore easily between my fingers, splitting into a heart shaped opening. Juicy, ruby red seeds spilled out, shaped like eye teeth. I picked one up and popped it into my mouth. Sweet flavor exploded on my tongue.
I took the pretty one into the kitchen and cut it open with a knife. The seeds were pale and firmly set. I plucked one out and bit into it. Ugh.. bitter! Hmmm…
I took it back into the studio and placed it beside its ugly twin whose charms were now beginning to grow on me.
Ugly at first glance on the outside, but inside it’s torn heart opening, awaited sweet satisfying fruit. The other, alluringly beautiful on the outside, within, offered only bitterness and disappointment.
The first blush of beauty is often deceptive.
The beautiful bud in the spring sometimes produces the bitterest fruit in the fall.
True beauty, like true love, is revealed in the slow flowering of time.
About the show:
An Appetite for Art
Cheryl Newby Gallery
Opening Night Reception, Saturday, November 19, 2016 5:30 – 7:30 PM
(843) 979-0149 or (800) 435-2733
Before I Sleep. Egg tempera. Beginning stages of repainting.
It was coming on the end of day and I was heading home. Ahead lay about 600 miles of road. At the top of a mountain just outside Spruce Pine, North Carolina, I paused. It was the summer of 2010.
Gazing down into the valley, I suddenly wished I could spread wings and sail home, soaring over rivers and roads. The leaves beside me stirred in the breeze, and a dusky memory swept into view. A sunset—a night sleeping under the stars in Death Valley—A time when I was an adventurous, 17 year old wandering the West in an old Chevy van. Far from the sea.
Over the next several years I made a couple of paintings of that reflective pause atop that Appalachian rise just outside Spruce Pine.
Crescent Moon. Egg tempera
The first was a vertical egg tempera titled Crescent Moon. The second version was a large oil painting titled Going Home.
Ambrose in studio with Going Home.
That one quickly sold, while Crescent Moon lingered on until I decided to cut the top two thirds off. I reworked it and renamed it Miles to Go, part of a verse from my favorite Robert Frost poem.
Miles to Go. First version.
Initially, I thought the inspiration for the paintings was a landscape carved under a crescent moon, with a pathway leading home. I thought it was about dusk, the early moon, Venus or the peaceful end of day. I thought it was about looking froward with a contented eye towards home.
I was mistaken.
In hindsight I realize my concept of home was tangled up like a twisted string of Christmas lights. Amid tumultuous changes in my life, home had become a notion, not a location.
During the winter of 2004, I lived in the empty house of my grandma Dewey and used the living room as my studio. I brought all my paintings and leaned them along the walls around me.
At night I slept on a couch, surrounded by my paintings. A comforting glow encircled me, as if I was enveloped in a luminous, serene bubble—in the genial company of old friends. My paintings emanated a vibrant, organic presence, and I experienced the emotional power of art to elevate the human spirit.
In the mist of that blue winter, I felt the inner light, understood the alluring mystery an original painting held to arouse and soothe the senses.
November Glory. Oil study. Plein air painting. 2007
This summer, as I left for a painting trip to Maine, I pulled the tempera painting, Miles to Go from the wall, and took it with me intending to work on it further.
While in Maine, I shared a house with a group of professional artists who I admire and respect. Painting, dining and laughing with my peers felt like a family reunion, minus the name calling. It felt like homecoming.
The morning I left Maine, I went down to the harbor to watch the boats arrive and depart. Like six years earlier on top of that Carolina mountain, I thought of the long drive ahead of me—the home I was coming back too. A serene structure close to the sea, filled with beautiful paintings and a sweet cat with a brain tumor who might be wondering where I was.
My idea of home has changed direction over the years. I recalled being a restless kid crisscrossing the country in my old Chevy van. Traveling deserted winter back roads, in the bluing dusk, I’d see the amber light of windows appear in the raw, twilight void. As I passed through town, I could see families moving around inside the warm rooms. Then I turn to look at the dark road ahead of me and drive on, searching for another place to sleep in the enfolding darkness.
Searching, always searching…What was my restless spirit seeking?
“Home is a perjury, a parlor trick, an urban myth” — Conor Oberst
During the 25 hour drive south from Maine this summer, I pondered the painting Miles to Go, and my 3 attempted iterations of that journey home I began that summer of 2010. What was it about? What was I trying to say? Maybe I’d been traveling down that road for forty years.
When I hit an ominous thunderstorm passing through the Carolina’s, and I could not see the road, the word “longing” came to mind. How do you paint that?
I realized I never was trying to reproduce the landscape with those paintings. I was trying to paint a feeling of longing….Or is it belonging? The same feeling I get being with my friends at Nanatuck house in Maine.
Humans are tribal souls that have sought connection with each other since our beginning. Don’t we all want to belong to something…to someone? Someone who is a witness to our life? A soulmate?
The day after I returned to the studio from Maine I started repainting Miles to Go.
Miles to Go, Before I Sleep, egg tempera work in progress.
I’m still chewing on it and have a ways to go painting it, but I thought I’d invite you on the journey.
The second part of the verse in Frost’s poem is “before I sleep.”
Home is not where you are—It is who you are with. Home is connection.
Home is a kind heart.
I have learned to carry home in my heart,
but I still have miles to go…
Before I sleep.
The Sojourner. Egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose
Dreaming I am a bird...
I rise from the warming earth, unfurl my wings and sail towards the gentle sea. Gilded light streams through my weightless body. The saline air caresses my restless feathers, laughing at the impermanence of things.
I soar over a golden stage of feathery grass, rippling under my breast. Sea wind and cloud song chime in the atmosphere, replenishing my spirits. To be one, effortlessly, with the eternal elements—earth, water and air…dreaming over eons.
Do you remember—were you once a witness to hope?—We were ageless when the sky blazed violet and we crossed virgin seas to begin anew? Or is this too, another forgotten dream?
We were beloved pilgrims then, roaming sands of distant shores in ancient footsteps, furrowed by the pioneers of humanity. In the time when birds spoke the language of soul-mates, calling to one another from border trees.
Time is passing my unsettled friend. All we have is the single breath of each moment. Tread the edges of life’s tremulous shadows and travel with me on the wondrous side of passionate light.
Our culture gods assure us happiness is purchased just beyond our horizons, but beauty and wonder and self-fulfillment are within you right now.
Simplify, discard mediocrity, and save that which stirs your soul and rings of freedom, inspiration and love. Always love. For does not the sojourner’s heart want to be claimed by love too? Like reflected light shining on an indigo sea claims the moon for its own?
The world needs healing and hearts need care. So take a walk on a wild shore. Dream and create a vision, find your purpose and make a plan. Your interests, skills and intuition will be your guide. Then, rise from the warming earth and be like the bird winging toward boundless seas.
And take us with you. We need your gifts. Be the inspiring sojourner you were meant to be, unfold your dream as we travel with you.
And do all things with love and respect and care.
Now close your eyes and dream…
Seaglass, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose
Seaglass is an egg tempera painting I’ve been refining over the last couple of years. The birds, ibis, I first observed on Sanibel Island in August 2009. Seven years ago.
Apparently, seven years is the gestation period for an idea. Those August day’s were absolutely beautiful in myriad ways, when graceful birds moved like ballet dancers across a watery stage.
Seaglass is about the only painting I’ve managed to finish after my solo show at Cheryl Newby gallery in June. I have another one on the easel, and like my egg tempera painting, Nesting, it’s giving me a fit as well.
To burn off frustration, I’ve been remodeling the studio. In a way, my studio is becoming a manifestation of my evolving creative life attitude surrounding Seaglass. . . Serenity, simplicity and inspiring beauty.
Time…the quality of time, is a precious element. Some of my most serenely beautiful, life enriching experiences, were the simplest ones, involving, water, sand, sunshine and good company. Time is an endangered gift.
I’ll share photos of the studio soon, and write more about a serene design philosophy that I’m formulating to use as a guide in art and life.
Meanwhile, I wandered out to the mailbox the other day and found this magazine, Charleston Style and Design, from Cheryl Newby gallery. If you’re on Pawleys Island this summer, stop in and say hi to Cheryl and Kaitee, and see the few remaining paintings from my show.
Charleston Style and Design magazine
Daniel Ambrose, Charleston Style and Design magazine
Peace and Light, as always, Daniel.
Five for Silver, egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose. Sold
It was two years ago, in June. I grabbed a coffee from Starbucks then carried it across the coastal highway to the picnic tables overlooking the ocean.
My grandma Dewey had just passed away a month shy of 105 years on this earth. Five months earlier, my best friend Donna had died. She was only 49. We used to pass the time on this picnic table, drinking coffee, sketching and talking about everything under the sun. Talking about art, God, our kids and simply laughing at each others daily stories. Yakking, she called it.
Donna Metts teaching art camp in the studio. 2006
Sitting on top of a table, I gazed across an empty sea. I opened my sketchbook and started drawing. A cow began to take shape. A hill on Hoot Owl road in North Carolina came to mind. Early one morning, I had seen a lone cow pressed against a June sky like a paper cutout—or perhaps an illustration in a child’s storybook.
I thought of Donna, how she set a luminous example for her children, and inspired her friends. I thought about my grandma Dewey, the lullabies she sang to me when I was a child. Remembered how happy I’d been that fairy tale summer in the mountains. Reflected on the years I raised a family on the river. Swimming through lifetimes in my mind.
I started thinking I think too much, then thought about how thinking inspires meaningful paintings. . . I started drawing again.
I thought about all the people loved and gone. . . How our residual memories of them inspire and influence our lives. Memories are like molecules in the sea. Molecules make an ocean, memories make a life. Life is Art.
I drew a hill under the cow. Looking up from my sketchbook, I saw a pale moon riding the blue. I drew it beside the cow. My grandma’s low smoky lullabies from another era drifted over the yellow dune flowers. . . Hush little baby… Later in my studio, this sketch evolved into an egg tempera painting Hey Diddle Diddle.
Many years ago, standing in the back of my truck beside a tidal creek, Donna and I painted another moon. I painted a green sky surrounding a yellow moon. She saw a purple sky circling a silver ball. In the twilight water below us, five white birds moved through the shallows.
I can not say where inspiration comes from. I’m certain I will never understand why love is withdrawn—or why some people turn pain into acts of destruction while others create works of tremendous beauty.
Nowadays, instead of sitting at picnic tables—after yoga—I go down to the ocean and swim out beyond the breaking waves. I lay on my back and float over the swells, relinquishing my thoughts to the infinite sky, letting senseless questions seep into the sea. The poet Rilke wrote: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions…
Life, like nursery rhymes, sometimes makes little sense. But I’ve been thinking. . .
We may believe we move through life like shadows of birds cast upon the water. Thinking our words and actions are unabsorbed, unseen like a sea wind. In our daily interactions, we shape, inspire and influence each other in countless ways.
Somewhere at this moment. . . someone is thinking of you as an inspiration.
Meet Me in the Moonlight, egg tempera painting, by Daniel Ambrose
The idea for my egg tempera painting, Meet Me in the Moonlight, occurred during a texting conversation with a collector. She mentioned the title of a plein air painting I did in Maine. An image flashed in my mind—shazam!!—a painting was conceived.
I find inspiration in life—in nature and in conversations. In seawater, singing birds, or words written or spoken, inspiration flows and paintings come to be. If we meet and talk awhile, your voice—in the rhythmic flow of breath—your words will tumble like surf music through my head. Rolling sound into wave after wave of mental pictures. Pictures become paintings. Breath becomes art.
Breath, invisible yet essential to our well being … as it is to be loved. In my yoga practice, breathing brings calmness and clarity. Clarity begets serene paintings, like Meet Me in the Moonlight.
It was not always so, this serenity. Ages ago, in my wilderness years, I knew anxiety and the terror of panic attacks. There is none of that now, not for decades. Living fully has taught me all things change, like sand dunes shifting in the wind. In time, anxiety waned, replaced by a deep, abiding peace.
In the relentless drive of daily life, it’s difficult finding peaceful spaces. Over the years, collectors have shared with me wonderful stories of living with my original paintings. Luminous art graces their rooms, creating spaces of beauty and calm. Through the alchemy of paint, tranquility flows through my brush and into my paintings, filling my collectors with serenity. Art, like love, is a mysterious healer in human lives.
Moments of peace are also known reflecting on sudden beauty; the rising moon polishing a gentle sea, its light shimmering like morning dew on a mountain violet. Peace too, glides in the breath of a loving voice soothing a weary soul.
Peace comes like inspiration, unannounced but always invited.
This painting, Meet Me in the Moonlight, is on exhibit at Cheryl Newby Gallery:
Inspired by Nature
Cheryl Newby Gallery
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Exhibition date: June 4th – Jul 2, 2016.
Call Kaitee at 843- 979-0149, for more details.