In my last blog post, I wrote about what drives me to paint. I explained that when I am working at the easel, the way I experience time changes. I feel connected to the present moment through my focused concentration. Painting is a way to “loose myself” and in so doing, I come back to feeling most like myself. In Part II of what drives me to paint, I focus on my main theme: landscapes. I reflect on how my travels and living abroad influenced this passion.
I’m sure that my painting landscapes today has much to do with the fact that the first paintings I saw in books and loved were Impressionist landscapes. I’ve written about the role of light in my painting practice here. I am also confident that my love of landscape painting has to do with my experience painting and walking in the outdoors with my grandfather. But as I reflect on the “why” of landscapes specifically, it seems to be all about the feeling and idea of place.
Place could mean home: a familiar place, or it could be a place I am passing through as a visitor: a new-to-me place. A place can also be imagined: someplace we dream of seeing. But even places we “know” can always be new. Like Monet taught us, it is always possible to see the same place differently, hour per hour, day by day. This idea is both inspiring and comforting to me. It reminds me that continuity and change go hand in hand.
My dream place has always been Paris. According to my parents, I started talking about Paris as a young child. When I was about eight years old, I wrote a poem about visiting Paris accompanied by an amateur drawing of the Eiffel tower. We don’t know where this interest came from. No matter how my interest was piqued, it was piqued as a kid, and I couldn’t wait to travel.
Growing up, I heard stories of Europe from my grandparents who, in the 1950’s, immigrated to Canada from the Netherlands. I thought of Europe, and specifically the Netherlands, as both unknown—I’d never been—but somehow also known. Hearing about a place inspires the imagination. And my child’s imagination was inspired by what I heard and saw about the country, including gifts from my grandparents’ travels back to the Netherlands and the relics, like landscape paintings, that decorated their home.
Europe was on my mind as I grew up in Canada, in a small city surrounded by nature. When I was 17, I traveled to Paris with my family and the next year visited the Netherlands for the first time. In France, I loved seeing bustling cafes, small winding streets and gallery windows. In the Netherlands, I felt free riding a bike through the countryside with my relatives. These were new and meaningful experiences and places.
After a year in France, I returned to Canada and appreciated the space of my home country for the first time. I fell in love with the national parks in my home province of New Brunswick. After living in a big city, I appreciated the silence of a more rural location. My experience abroad allowed me to see my home differently.
Although I’ve lived in many cities over the last decade, it took being in the quiet, at the Belgian coast, to return to painting after some years away from it. I needed the quiet to pick up my brushes and focus on the light and colour happening right outside my door. I painted the forest and the sea. I’ve enjoyed living in cities, but I haven’t recorded the sights and sounds of these places. Whether in Canada or Europe, I am always drawn to the trees, flowers, and coastlines.
Making a painting based on a landscape allows me to express my experience of and appreciation for it. As I paint a landscape, I often feel both inspired and comforted. No matter how much I have planned my painting, I leave room for my intuition and surprises always happen. There is an element of unknown in the process. This requires that I trust the process and that letting go allows for the experience of play. Alongside this newness, I feel comfort when I am painting a landscape. I experience a feeling of “coming home” or of returning to something or someplace that I already know. I process my feelings about a place through colour and form. Though familiar, each landscape painting is a new beginning and as such, its own kind of place.
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