Tropical storm Debby was hanging off the west coast of Florida as I drove home from my gallery show in North Carolina. Pulling off the interstate north of Daytona, I drove along A1A to check out the waves.
I saw this flag gallantly flying in a strong north wind and decided to come back the next morning and paint it.
Back at the site the next morning, I made some drawings in my sketchbook and painted a color study of the flag. Pondering my drawing I felt like it needed a foreground element. I looked around for an object and saw this fire hydrant.
I’ve wrote before about my previous life on the river; how she fed my imagination and provided years of inspiration. Knowledge of the people who lived and passed through her added layers of meaning to my paintings. Timacuan Indians, Spanish explorers, British soldiers and plantation owners. I thought about them all while painting and exploring the old plantation roads and ruins for twenty-five years.
Eventually, encroaching development diminished her allure and mystery. South, in the narrow, primal part of the river, where giant cypress trees and twelve foot gators dwelled, docks and boat houses crowd the passage way.
Once lush, exotic jungle banks, film settings of the early Tarzan movies, were bulldozed for manicured lawns and McMansions. Upon reflection, my own home, built in the 1970’s, contributed to the destruction of natural lands. Incidentally, I know early Tarzan movies were filmed there as Johnny Weissmuller personally told me when I was a child.
In the past six years since I left the river, I’ve been seeking a way forward. Most of the things that compelled me to paint in the beginning, in my hometown, are gone.
I am not the kind of painter that paints merely to make a simple visual recording of a scene. For me, there has to be some meat on the bones. Associations, experience and memories are integral to my process.
So I’ve been wandering between seashore and mountains, seeking a spark, something I can grab a hold of. I’m remaining open, free of biases and questions of doubt — who would ever want a painting of that?
I’ve seen other artists change their style or subject matter and lose their collector base. Conversely, art history proves many examples of successful painters of broad subject matter. I believe if the work is exceptional, supremely beautiful and connects in some way, it and the right person will find each other.
And that is what art is about, discovering common ground, communicating and sharing what it feels like to be a human.
So what does all of this I’ve said have to do with an egg tempera painting of a flag and a yellow fire hydrant?
I don’t know, but the image does contain the three necessary components that compel me to try and paint a beautiful expression of unresolved questions.
Perhaps, as Dylan said, “the answer is blowing in the wind.”
And for now, that’s all I need to know.