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It was an unusually hot April day on the high plateau as the train sped us back to Madrid after a day in Toledo. My head rested against the seat, as I looked out the window. Grain fields. Pure, gold, shimmering, caught up by the breeze. And the sky—robin's egg blue. A simple palette. Two colors. As we passed the field the tracks curved into a grove of olive trees—lightly rolling hills, ash-brown trunks, twisting and gnarled, gray-green leaves against the blue sky.

From that moment I never looked at the world in the same way. The land awakened to me, or I to it. It went from a backdrop to a living, changing, entity—a being. I think that was when the first inkling of wholeness took hold of me. Wholeness in the sense that we are our world, and it is us. We had just returned from a month in the Canary Islands where we camped on the beach, swimming, reading, and lying in the sun all day, and in the evenings we gathered with the other young expatriates in the bars. There were two bars, both located on the sand a few hundred yards from the shore. One at each end of the beach. Paco tended the one at the far side. He was a man in his early thirties who had taught himself English talking with the foreigners who sojourned in this little ocean side village that had only the two bars, no other businesses. When the afternoon sun became too hot, I would head in to talk to Paco. He was always looking to practice his English. Then I began to paint him—a lonely figure, most likely to remain on his remote piece of beach, who borrowed the eyes and ears of the restless young crowd just passing through. He was the last human I painted, except for the figures in the life drawing classes I was required to paint when I returned to school.

That spring, the olive trees and the fields changed my life. They enveloped me, seeped into my mind, my psyche, as real and alive as anything. They kept me painting. They made me paint. I painted nothing but trees and fields for 10 years. I began to watch the land as you would someone that you wanted to get to know. I looked at the formation, the substance, the volume, the color of the world, and kept looking. I begin to learn that it takes time to know the land, just as much as it takes time to know another person, or the history of a nation. The year I spent in Ireland, I did not begin to paint until I had been there for three months. I hadn't yet comprehended what I was seeing. I remember the day I was walking into the village down the hill from my little cottage. I looked out across a field to the mountain range where the afternoon sun was tiptoeing along its ridge, and then my eyes passed on to the Atlantic just on the far side of the village and I realized, I finally was able to see. It was such a powerful recognition because I had, still, clearly in my mind, the image from when I had arrived, and they were not the same. What we see is so intensely imbued with ourselves, and only part of me had arrived in Ireland—the physical part—the rest slowly streamed in behind me, and it wasn't until that moment that I had truly arrived.

It has been twenty-nine years since I have been in Spain, yet I am still painting trees and fields of grass and grain because they are in me, because I know them as part of myself, because on that day riding the train when I was twenty they summoned me.


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