Saturday, April 10, 2010

The place I live does affect my work. I could argue that I live a lot in my head and that most of my work comes from that place; however, while that is true, the physical place I live in must affect the imaginative one to quite a degree. In Missoula, there are three things going on. One is that my eyes have a great expanse of sky to retreat in. By retreat, I mean that my eyes spend an inordinate amount of time checking details. I'm an editor, I write, I read, and I draw. So the expanse I'm afforded here is a way for my eyes to retreat into space and away from the minutiae. This makes them rested and able for any work I do with text and any work I do with art.

The second aspect is that the colors are subdued and pale, somewhat dry and dusty. I can work with these colors or no color at all. I love all colors. Color is life. But color can be so distracting to me and should be viewed in short durations. Just like being in places that I love, love, love for short periods of time, if I view color that way, it won't overwhelm me. But if I use color in my art, I always make it muddy.

(I went to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia once at the end of the summer. The vibrant colors of the multitude of flowers screamed at me. Really screamed!! By the end of a several hour walk through the gardens, I was dizzy and could barely keep my eyes open. But it is the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen.)

And the final aspect (I'm sure there are more but I'm trying to keep it somewhat simple for myself.) is that once my eyes bounce back from their scan of the skies, of the mountains in the distance, they focus once again on that which is near. Besides what resides in my head, there is so much little stuff here that I like to examine - lichen, bugs, mushrooms, bark, stones, water.

Well, now. I've forgotten about aerial views. I guess they're not really of Missoula, so I can't say that they are an aspect of Missoula that influences my art. Or are they? I fly in and out of Missoula several times a year, over the Rockies. I always get a window seat. I look at the mountains, ridges, roads, and rivers. They become a small detail to examine, albeit from quite a far.

So this physical place in, around, and above me has yes, greatly influenced my art to this point. The question is how it might continue to do so without becoming stale or if place will matter less once the place has really sunk in.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

There are many places that I love. Some I love so much that I really couldn't live there. Those places are best kept perfect in my dreams and memories, places like the damp woods along the shores of Whidbey Island outside of Seattle, like the sheep green hills of the Isle of Arran in southern Scotland, like the misty mountain temples and shrines of Nikko, Japan, like the warm and hidden beaches of Kauai. I imagine moving to any one of those places, but I'm afraid there'd be a short honeymoon, and I'd start to see their flaws. I'd rather not know they had any.

I've lived in several places that I don't love, and I'm thankful not to be in them anymore. Those places are crowded, visibly polluted, strip malled and brick walled. They suffocate, unnaturally. There is no place to take a deep breath and feel the figurative roots digging into the underground. I've spent my life working my way out of them, sometimes more slowly than I would have liked.

So when I moved to Missoula, I still had the anxious thought of "where to next?" Surely, this place isn't going to be IT for me. Not yet. I want the place that would match me on one of those best-places-to-live quizzes on the Internet.

But I'm here two and a half years now, and suddenly I realize that I can't lift my feet freely off of the ground here because something is growing from them, downward.

I spent three months this winter in Beacon, New York, along the Hudson. Beacon is a comforting little town, once home to brick factories, now home to the largest contemporary art museum in the U.S. - the Dia:Beacon. It has a long, narrow, main street filled with interesting little shops, cafes, and art galleries, all working hard to stay alive. It has little houses, new and old, on little plots of land, each different, funky like the ones in Missoula. Nothing perfect but all about character. I like being in that place, even though I've only been in it when the weather is cold, and I don't even like cold weather.

While in Beacon, I thought about returning to Missoula and then thinking seriously about my next move, finding that next best place. Oregon? Washington? New Mexico? British Columbia? I made a wish list of the positive attributes of a new place. It was then that I began to see that the items on my wish list were mostly the positives of Missoula - small town with an active and historic center, small town that is not chained to another town in a long line of towns, small town surrounded by protective mountains, small town with water, small town with an arts community. How long would I have to search to find a place similar but better than Missoula?

Returning to Missoula from Beacon, "OMG" was my mantra, once again, as we flew over the mountains into the valley. I'll never tire of that fantastic return. And returning to Missoula, there were friends and other artists and artist friends that I wanted to catch up with. Yes, there are people here that I can catch up with. That's when I really felt the roots expanding (even though the ground was still winter frozen). Do I really want to pick up and move somewhere and find these people all over again? Can I really pick up and move somewhere and tap into an artist community so quickly as I did here?

I've had friends in all of the places I've lived. Good friends that are still in my life. So I'm not concluding that place is all about friends. But it is all about being someplace where I will let roots grow. And I'll let roots grow because I believe in the place: It's got a great deal of the natural. It's generally healthy in body and spirit. It loves its artists. I can work in it and be productive. I've seen its flaws and they don't scare me. I'm satisfied.

Maybe the key is just the word satisfied. Satisfied may sound like only one step up from depressed, but it is a good state of mind. You can do a lot with satisfied. You can stop reaching for the illusion of perfect and really focus on other things (like creative and personal evolution and development).

So I can save those places that I love, love, love for little respites. And I can plant myself in places like Beacon for short durations. I can fill my soul with different vistas. But I will watch them all fade as I fly over the mountains back into this valley. Just look what I'm working with here: