Darting, constructing, deconstructing, organizing and reorganizing patches of colour based on brief glances as the lens of my eyes send focused light to my retinas which then sends electrical impulses via the optical nerve, in an upside down image, to my brain is the first parts of seeing. After turning the images from both eyes covering the areas from my darting glances right-side up and placing them in some kind of recognizable pattern, under the influence of surrounding sound, tactile sensation, smell and memory I can SEE. I trust this visual reference to be tentatively true until such time as new information is provided. As I write this explanation, I reach out, without thinking or even really focusing my attention, and pick it up my coffee cup without hesitation and take a sip. My mind remembered exactly where the cup was placed, how far it is from my body and my glance tells me it is still there, sitting next to the two books that have been on the desk for months and on top of a few papers. My brain did not need to think about the cup, the books or the papers. It could “see” at a glance that the image it had already stored for reference was still relevant. This same process happens over and over all day long. These are the sensory clues that allow my brain to protect and engage my physical being in the world around me when primarily relying on the use of sight.
I am fascinated by this mystery of seeing and how we construct tentative realities as we go about the process of living an ordinary everyday life as a seeing person. But what happens when we see something that is so puzzling or intense that we have no immediate way to recognize what we are seeing or any reliable references to be able to categorize it? I describe these moments as – every cell in my body becomes focused on making sense out of all the information that is available to me. We all have these moments. These are the moments where you hear better, smell better, sense the temperature of the day, the direction of the breeze and the colours and shapes of everything are more vivid. These heightened sensory moments can be induced by fear, pain or pleasure. Or drugs I suppose, but I am most concerned with our natural interaction with the world around us. These temporary moments of sensory intensity are the places I most desire to capture when painting. I want to capture a landscape as if we are seeing it for the first time and need all our awareness to make sense out of what you are seeing. As you might guess this is not an easy task.
First, I must use every bit of conscious information I can discern, combined with all of my intuition and unconscious strength, when I set brush to canvas. Second, in our current overly stimulating daily lives gaining anyone’s interest in the resulting landscape painting is an almost impossible task. We so often will only see trees,
and more trees.
There will be an ocean,
and more ocean,
and even more ocean!
Our brains say to self – been there, done that, moving on. For many of us then, we can no longer experience our natural world in its fullness – neither in a painting nor in real life. A wave
is just a wave.
Our brains and our memory tell us that we have no real need to know. In this situation, the metaphorical moon is no longer there. The moon becomes identifiable by a collected set of irrelevant references, unrelated to our safety, our well-being or our need for engagement with our ordinary everyday life. There is no blame. There is no fault. It is just us humans sorting out what we most currently need and what is most important to our tentative truth.
So it is a fair question then to ask – why do I bother? Why do I turn my home into a painting studio
and spend the majority of each day following the light across vast landscapes
through intimate views of trees
and over the edges of clouds?
What is it about this driving practice of observation that gets me up early, clambering over slippery rocks, kneeling in the cold water, standing barefoot on the deck in the snow or sitting shivering waiting for the moon to rise? What is it that keeps me standing at the easel for hours without noticing the strain in my lower back until I lay down to sleep at night? What is it that keeps my brush moving across the canvas recording these fleeting remembrances of sensory information when, possible, the work is irrelevant to anyone but me? I am not sure I can fully answer these questions to either of our satisfaction. However, I can still see the moon and it is magnificent!
What full sensory memory of our natural world do you most often revisit in your mind’s eye?
© 2017 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.
Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.
Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch
From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada
For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to http://terrillwelchartist.com