Ekphrasis: a story of inspiration
Yvonne Henry is the genius behind the Ekphrasis show, which continues at the Calistoga Art Center through Saturday, April 20th, from 1 to 5 p.m each day. Her idea - what would happen if you combined a photographer with someone working in another medium, and the second artist began with a photograph from the first artist as the inspiration to create something new? Hence, Sharolyn Townsend's wonderful drawing, using Michelangelo as inspiration (one work of art begets another)....
Yvonne presented the idea at the Calistoga Camera Club show late last year, and artists and photographers began pairing up. I was absolutely blessed to be able to work with Wes Thollander, whose photography I have long admired.
But in my case the inspiration works in multiple ways....
Long before I met Wes, I knew of his father, artist Earl Thollander. Wes's and my grandparents were friends – Swedes in Cloverdale, a small Sonoma County town with a reasonably good-sized Swedish community. After my grandparents moved to Santa Rosa, Wes's grandparents would visit whenever they came down to Santa Rosa, and Earl would drive them. My grandmother would tell me about Earl, and he autographed a copy of Bug Haiku for me.
I loved the way he drew - with a freshness of vision, originality, and humor that inspired me. I was a drawer, too (it was many years before I thought of myself as a painter), and I was enchanted by his work. Such beautiful lines! (Oh, what he could do with a bamboo pen!) When Back Roads of California, and later Barns of California came out, I loved looking through them.
Wes, as it turned out, was accompanying his father on some of those sketching trips, and photographing the scenes they found – the beginnings of his photographic career.
It was not easy to choose only one of Wes's photographs as my inspiration – his work is profoundly beautiful. I narrowed it down to two images, but kept leaning to the one you see on the left, Mund Road. The trees twisting their way up to find the light, and the light streaming down to the forest floor, create a magical scene.
I wanted to give a sense of those trees nearly dancing in their places, and the light filtering in between them. I used to live in a forest – Wes and his family live in one, too – and there is something about it that feels magical and reverential.
I wanted to begin with Wes's composition, which required subtle shifts to make the painting work, because the canvas's proportions were different. Some people might have found that direction too literal, but that was part of what I so loved about it. I wanted to work with the image in black and white, so the painting could find its own color. It feels to me that it still wants more color – so I may see where else it may want to take me after the show. But I love the dancing of the trees – I think we caught them behaving as though unobserved, celebrating? – perhaps conversing? - in the circle of the light.
I am absolutely honored to have Wes's photograph as my inspiration for this show, just as his father's drawings have inspired me for so many years. There's a wonderful circularity about it, even though I never got to meet Earl. I just know my grandmother is up there smiling....
9/14/2013 10:12:17 am
Art-inspired art can indeed be wonderful. I missed the 2013 Calistoga exhibition, unfortunately, but your blog entry immediately put me in mind of the great fusion of classic Chinese poetry and Chinese landscape paintings (often sharing one scroll), each so wonderfully minimalist and evocative, using suggestion so subtly as to require the reader (or viewer) as an active co-creator of the work, not a passive recipient. Chinese paintings might not appeal very strongly to a colorist, but the drawer in you probably loves them, too.
9/15/2013 10:28:42 am
Great connection - I hadn't thought of them! Yes, although I haven't studied Chinese landscape paintings recently, I do love them - and appreciate the incredible drawing that goes into them.
9/15/2013 10:30:43 am
And this painting is the one currently sitting on my easel, too... it's really still in process....
9/22/2013 06:11:17 am
My first interest in Chinese poetry was also Arthur Waley's collection of translations, now dated. One Chinese painting-poetry connection, of course, is the nature of the language. A line of poetry is not an unambiguous declarative sentence, but a series of characters with sometimes unclear relationships. Some lines sound like internet "tags" for paintings, like Li Po's line: "dog-bark-water-sound-midst," or Wang Wei's "fisherman-song-enter-estuary-deep."
9/23/2013 08:12:23 am
Perhaps both poetry and hashtags have this in common because they endeavor to sum up the essence of their subjects - I would not have connected the two before now, though!
9/24/2013 04:14:35 am
Actually, I meant to include your name, not Beverly's, since I had in mind your painting at the top of this blog entry. Her name must have occurred to me because you and she are the two artists I am most looking forward to visiting this weekend during the Open Studio hours. In my own occasional haiku, I try to eliminate as many empty words as possible, so I appreciate titles like your "land, trees, sky." Getting to the essence: how interesting that people as diverse as wild Picasso and the modest Shakers understood that, and aspired to that. But please don't go all abstract on us. One White-on-White is enough, I think.
9/24/2013 07:05:20 am
Thank you for the compliment! Never fear, I will not go all abstract – my roots as a figure drawer are far too strong. The abstract paintings come out of a teaching exercise I lead new painters through. It's a wonderful thing to return to when I want to simplify what I'm doing and just deal with the essentials of shape, pattern, color, and line.
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Karen Lynn Ingalls
I am an artist in Napa and Sonoma Counties, in California. I paint colorist landscapes of rural California, teach art classes and lessons, and live in Calistoga, California. I also teach private, group, and corporate art workshops in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, and other parts of Northern California.