February has always seemed a time of waiting to me. Waiting for winter to end, for sun to return, for spring break or the end of the school year. In February I begin to forget what flowers and leaves look like after months of bare, grey trees. Occasionally the weather warms and reminds us that the seemlingly dead branches are actually full of life below the surface, waiting to burst forth. Winter is not death, just silence.
I felt myself needing structure this January. The exhibit was over, and the paintings which I had not finished for the exhibit were still unfinished and full of unsolved problems. Too cold for landscape painting, figure drawing sessions suspended indefinitely… how to set myself a clear path to get back to work? After a big exhibit such as the one I had in December at HeART Gallery in Toledo, artists often experience an emptiness similar to those bare silent branches of February.
The studio is empty but we know that the creative juices still want to flow, and are about to reveal something new. It may be a continuation of the work that just left the studio for the gallery, or it may be germinating something new and different.
In addition to this post-exhibit winter slowdown, I found myself full of questions for what’s next as I and others in the CIVA community ask the question “What’s next?” after some unexpected news. Another moment of silence, knowing that there is life under the surface…
Departure: Still Life
Two years ago I had enjoyed an online course by painter Zoey Frank, so when I saw she was offering another course in January/February, I thought it might be a good jump start. In the course “Breaking the Surface: Exploring the History of Pictorial Space”, we read through William Dunning’s book Changing Images of Pictorial Space: A History of Illusion in Painting and each week set ourself to explore issues of pictorial space which had been the focus of artists of a particular era of art history.
I decided to explore branches. Branches often appear in my paintings as symbols of the Tree of Life or the Tree of Jesse. I felt I needed to investigate those images with more rigorous observation. The branches come from my backyard Rose of Sharon tree. The seed pods remain all year, though the flowers last only a very short time. Even the leaves wait until summer to unfurl — later than all the other plants.
Still life is a departure from my usual subject matter, but in this moment of winter the symbol of these stark empty branches has held meaning to me. Not only I am searching for the next challenge in the studio, but also for what comes next in other ways as well. It feels again like these stark branches waiting for the spring sunshine to come and clothe them.
Now is the silence of winter, but spring will come.