A Late Winter’s Eve

If I wrote the classic line, “it was a dark and stormy night”, it would seem fit for the time at which I write.  We are late in the winter season now and our winter has been unusually mild, balanced in a sense by the extreme cold weather witnessed in this season of the year in Europe and Central Asia.   And when I think of Central Asia, my mind invokes images of the quiet steppes or vast plains of that region of the world.  They are matched in many ways, I suppose, by our own great plains where I have spent much of my life.  If you live on the plains, the steppes, perhaps the outback, and so many other like places on this earth, the vastness of the landscape, and the enormous vault of the sky above affect you and become a part of you.  They leave a permanent impression on the mind and soul.  They evoke in me a thousand memories of days and events gone by, and the thoughts and emotions that accompanied them.  On a night like this, my thoughts returned to the wonder and power of a prairie storm, and all that one senses in being a witness to it and a part of it.   I recall even the scent of the impending storm (and they do come quickly) as the air fills with lightning and its by-product, ozone, and I remember the cool clean smell that comes as the atmosphere is washed clean of the dust of other dry and windy days.

On such a day long ago (in my mind, at least), I experienced such a storm blowing up in the plains of Alberta (and now even Ian Tyson comes to mind with the words “four strong winds…”).

It is of such experiences as this that paintings are born, music and lyrics, and novels are written, and stage plays and movies are conceived,.  Events like this are part of the fabric of our being, perhaps wrapped into our very DNA over hundreds of thousands of years or our existence as human beings.  Our natural response is to seek shelter, warmth, sustenance and protection from whatever nature may bring.  The fact that we had a mild winter in North America will contribute to increasingly severe storms in the late winter and spring seasons this year, I am told, and events, so far, tend to lend credence to those words..

A visual experience of a sudden storm forming over the prairie landscape – from my memories

The painting above, which I created on that singular occasion to which I referred, was my attempt to encapsulate in a permanent record of some kind what to me is the abstraction of that experience.  There is an element of every prairie storm in this image.  The way the strong winds which bring the storm blow up the dust before them from fallow or dormant fields which at another time might be clothed in wheat, barley, rye or canola.  The blowing dust darkens the sky in the distance, but the bright, waning light late on a winter day still illuminates the elevators and waiting train cars on the horizon.

It is this not uncommon but strong contrast of the bright winter light before sunset brilliantly illuminating the vivid colors of the grain elevators and the train cars beside them, against the dark and cold backdrop of the impending storm, that evokes in my artistic spirit a desire to capture and preserve that moment in time.  Those thoughts and memories, which I wished to capture and immortalize (in a very human sense), are perhaps conveyed in this painting.

Every artist, no matter what his medium, works to make a statement of some kind.  In this case, it is the attempt to capture a moment in time or an experience, and to preserve it for posterity in some way.  It is my and every artist’s wish to capture and communicate in his own way what he has experienced and felt.  The painter uses the tools available to him, hue, contrast, lighting, texture, movement, composition, and so on, to capture a unique moment in time and to communicate it in his own way so that others may know something of what he experienced and felt by being there.

This seems to be a common thread in all the arts, the desire to communicate something in a way that speaks to another person’s soul as the experience itself spoke to the artist’s soul.  Whether the medium be music, dance, painting, the written word, sculpture, or whatever medium the artist has chosen, it represents his attempt to bring his experience into the realm or our senses, as a substitute for having witnessed it ourselves.

To the extent that the artist succeeds in his attempt, we are drawn to his work.  If his work evokes something of the emotions that accompanied the original experience in us, or evokes a memory or a vision of another time and place, he has succeeded.  If we seem to fit into the image in some way, even if only that we experience the normal emotions that are evoked if we had been in the situation which is depicted, then the artist has succeeded.  Isn’t this what great novels, great music, great paintings, and great artistic renderings of any kind are all about?

No, I don’t mean to say that this is all they can be about, art has too much power to be restricted to only one explanation, but it is the one that I wanted to focus on today.  We shall have ample time to explore the wider universe of the arts as we go, and we shall surely be doing that here.

A note about my writing is appropriate here.  There are great artists in every artistic field of endeavor without regard to sex or other considerations.  Where I write ‘he’, properly read ‘he/she’, and where I write ‘his’, properly read ‘his/her’, and so on.  We are all human beings regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, etc, and what will be written here must be understood to be addressed to and about all of us without exception.  We are all human beings in the eyes of our Maker, and it is the products of His creation that we will be exploring.  In some sense artists are men/women striving to do something related to what He has already done.  We are simply trying to preserve and to communicate our own response to it and perhaps our unique interpretation of it.

There is perhaps more that can be said to carry this discussion further into the mainstream of current reality, and I will plan a second part to this thread, as a continuation of what has begun here.  After all, it’s getting late and we’ll have more time to talk again very soon.  I’ll blow out the candle and wish you well for now.

On a stormy late winter’s night….

— Jim