Thinking About Paths

Looking back over the work I’ve made during the last seven months, something rather obvious strikes me in a new way: I love paths.

I remember, in my high school art class, being introduced to a photograph of W. Eugene Smith’s entitled, The Walk To Paradise Garden (1946). I used to look and look at this image, finding that it provoked something both comforting and destabilizing. I experienced a feeling of safety when engaging with the photograph, which stemmed from what seemed like the comfortable security of friendship. In addition to this safety, I felt a sense of adventure and uncertainty while gazing at the little pair walk, their backs to the viewer, into what cannot be seen, that which is just over the hill.  

This double feeling—being suspended in a familiar safety and on the brink of uncertainty, perhaps an adventure—lends a subtle tension to the generally peaceful scene. The strong light/dark contrast echoes the tension. Childhood doesn’t last very long before it’s time to step into one’s own path; sometimes we walk together, hand-in-hand or following in the footsteps of another, sometimes we walk alone. When I think back to my early interest in art, in addition to the works of Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec and van Gogh, I think of this Smith photograph in particular and the feeling of serene anticipation.

With the exception of my Dandelionsalthough there could be miniature paths between plant bunches—all of the paintings in my Forest Series have obvious paths (sometimes two! – see Two Paths). My Seascape Series, too, sometimes depicts little paths through the dunes or a road curving around a blossoming cherry tree. Paths, to varying degrees, are also depicted in my Canada Series. For example, the rows of farmland being tended in my painting At the Farm. Although a path can feel long, uncertain, and, at times, daunting, paths can also encourage a sense of anticipation and hopefulness. Our hearts can leap and ask: what is around the corner or just over the hill?

On a recent walk in the forest of Villers-la-Ville, just south of Brussels, a section of the trail turned into a sort of narrow dug out wherein the path’s edges rose dramatically on either side. There was lush foliage on either side creating a cocoon-like, secret garden feeling. I couldn’t see very far in front of me and was just able to determine that the path dipped and rose before seeming to disappear. I remembered Smith’s photograph and that feeling of comfort and destabilization. I stopped walking and took in the scene. I tried to reorient myself while also enjoying the tapestry of colours and forms before me. I noticed the bright red berries emerging from the foliage and felt the autumn sun, still warm, on my face. I took some quick reference photos and got to work on what would become, Berry Passage. Here it is!

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1 thought on “Thinking About Paths

  1. […] themes and patterns return in new ways in each new painting (see my blog post on the theme of paths here). The scene that inspires a painting inevitably collides with my experience of my previous work […]

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