By Kip Bradley, Studio Programs Manager at Telfair Museums
It’s been about a decade since I painted a plein air landscape. This weekend I had the opportunity to do so during our Ossabaw Island painting workshop with West Fraser.
This one day workshop offered me something that deeply contrasted what has become my everyday life. It allowed me a nostalgic return to the romantic ideals I grew up with. Living not far from Walden Pond, my education was steeped in transcendentalist values. This short trip and momentary but intense focus on art renewed and rejuvenated my creative energy. Landscape painting was my first love as an artist. The return to these ideals was quick and powerful.
The fifteen artists registered for the workshop met at Delegal Creek Marina at 6am. Within moments we were immediately surrounded by cranes and a large group of dolphins-technology and the rush of time were far behind us. Arriving at Ossabaw, we were greeted by Mark and Elizabeth DeBose from the Ossabaw Island Foundation. They introduce us to the island history while West quickly set up his supplies. He talked all of us through a quick painting of the islands coastline and left us with sage advice,
“We all have a deep understanding of relationship in nature, you may not have words for those relationships, but you can recognize them.”
West encouraged everyone to trust and relay on those “known or unconsciously known relationships.”
According to Emerson, Thoreau had the greatest awareness of to the relationship between natural elements, and spent his days running through the forest and fields documenting in detailed journals every natural occurrence and the contributing elements. I have always admired how he painted those observations so beautifully in his writings.
We all ventured off in our own directions and found spots to create morning paintings. Some individuals were more drawn to the marsh and others to the variety of romantically overgrown and decaying house and shed structures. I enjoyed the perspective and light near three tabby houses, and chose to paint there. A sweet path wrapped around the third house disappearing into wall of dense dark forest with warm tantalizing splotches of light, highlighting the contrasting surface hues of each construction.
It was a wonderful day and the morning light was magical. West was swift to move around to each individual and provide assistance in composition and ensured all were off to a good start.
Around noon we broke for lunch and West left for a visit with Sandy West, the 99-year-old islands sole inhabitant and owner. The rest of us prepared to explore the inland middle village, where in the 70’s, a program was held there called the Genesis Project-a project with the goal of to returning to nature and living off the land.
While on our island excursion my painting took a nose dive into a pile of dirt. It could have been the beautiful but nosy Sicilian donkeys that hung out with me all day- or maybe it was that perfect slight breeze. I made an effort to recover by accepting the newly acquired texture, adding more paint, and re-building lost elements into the painting. The morning light had been exciting with dramatic hue shifts and strong shadows. The following rescue effort was difficult in the harsh afternoon light.
The final painting was far from perfect. In fact it was perhaps a little gritty and pasty. It was an appropriate full-fledged re-introduction to the traditions of plein air painting, natural hazards, bugs, changing light, and a little sun burn.
Thoreau said, “It is one thing to paint something as to make it beautiful. It is an entirely different and more glorious a thing to paint the very air we breathe.”
This trip to Ossabaw, I believe, left all of us involved with a greater sense of “ the air we breathe”. It could have been the history of the island, the pristine Georgia coastal nature, or the opportunity to work with a great artist and awesome individual such as West Fraser, who so deeply captures the regional landscape and culture. Whether or not I made a technically good painting, it is the experience that it documents. I am happy with my painting as is, it is the air I breathed this day.
West had truly great advice to share with the fifteen of us-that in taking the time to observe and appreciate the “deep understanding of the relationship in nature” through painting we can find and achieve a greater deeper significances to things, or just have fun making paintings.
Many of the artists have agreed to exhibit their creations in the Jepson Center’s Mary Lane Morrison Community gallery, August 27-September 24, 2012. Several of the participants have also suggested that they will donate their paintings to Ossabaw Island’s pig roast fundraising event.