First, I’ll preface this article by saying that I didn’t expect to be blogging so soon about my new series and hope that my readers will appreciate a positive diversion and perhaps even some inspiration in this piece.
Early on, while hordes of people were hoarding toilet paper, I was ordering more canvases. Like most Americans, I’ve hunkered down at home, along with Lindsey and our 35-year-old son Charlie, who is unexpectedly stranded here—lucky for us! While he works remotely from his childhood bedroom and Lindsey immerses herself in projects, I paint.
My original idea to create Monet-like scenes of Venice had already transitioned into being a comment on climate change, but when COVID-19 invaded, the series morphed into something else. I got started in late January and by late March had ten in progress:
The first seven have been worked on twice and the last three only once. I assume that each painting will take 5-10 sessions—usually 1-3 hours per— before being completed. Note: All of these paintings have an orange undercoat that can be seen more prominently in early drafts.
Before the Quarantine
Individual frames from a 2003 home video of Venice (3 & 5 above) gave me a starting place, but I realized I needed more to work with, and added some online images and one from my friend George (6).
By the time I roughed in the initial five canvases, everything was rosy. However, I didn’t just want to show the city as it was for Monet in 1908, I also intended to make the series a commentary on global warming. Given last year’s flood and dire predictions of rising sea levels, I added compositions to show “The City of Water” flooded (7 & 8). I fully expected to paint more of those—I still may.
However, during my initial sessions with these two (below), the coronavirus had already hit Italy, and Lindsey was in touch with our friend Nicoletta, who was under lockdown with her family in Trieste. That’s when we began feeling a personal connection to what became a global pandemic. We all sensed a tidal wave gaining mass and rolling towards our shores, which seems to be reflected in the dim tone of these (click on pictures to enlarge):
Then, almost overnight, everything changed.
We entered quarantine, and my first inclination was to paint more—for lots of reasons. As I’ve said repeatedly, painting is a practice of contemplation and centeredness for me. I lose myself in the moment, focused on only brushstrokes and color. Painting helps me to feel connected to everyone who has seen or will see my artwork. Actually, these days I feel like I am sharing healing energy with all of you and our entire planet through this artistic form of meditation. If, indeed, my creations are a part of the legacy I leave behind as a human who has lived, then the pandemic provides me with plenty of inspiration to stay busy. As I’ve written before, I agree with the poet Kenneth Rexroth, “Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: the creative act.”
That, and staying isolated during a pandemic.
By the time we’d been in seclusion for a couple of weeks, Italy appeared to be finally having a downturn in new cases. Their lockdown seemed to be having an effect. I went online to find out what Venice looked like with everyone in seclusion, and to my pleasant surprise, the canals were returning to the clarity of the Venetian Lagoon on which the city was built. Without tourists and pollution from so many boats, it has taken on an almost tropical hue!
Seaweed, fish, dolphins, and swans have returned to the waterways. The landscape below (left) was based on a current news photo and represents how beautiful Venice could be if humankind would commit itself to saving the planet, slowing climate change, and using clean energy sources. This is what Venice looks like today. Of course, that’s probably just a dream for the future.
The picture on the right reflects hope. Even in these difficult and unprecedented days, I try to be optimistic. Unfortunately, Italy’s daily drop in cases was short lived after I began the swan painting. So far, I don’t have the heart to begin a second session on it. With a rising curve of cases there and here, the hope I had has turned into disappointment.
This too shall pass, and we will be forever changed. Inevitably, we will have learned things about ourselves both because of and despite the suffering. Those lessons will be unique to each of us; but, everyone around the world will share something other than a virus—a new kind of connectedness and responsibility.
My personal lessons have been occurring nonstop. Like everyone, I muse about my own mortality (ugh, as if that hadn’t been on my mind since I was a kid). But I consider the life’s big questions with more immediacy now. I internalize this disturbance in the force like Obi-Wan Kenobi did when the Death Star pulverized the planet Alderaan.
Yet, it’s just not in my nature to focus on remorse. Instead, I deal with my negative emotions by doing positive activities—first and foremost, painting. Like Monet, who kept himself alive for as long as he could continue painting his Grande Décorations, my life-force compels me to work on this Venice series. At the rate I’m going, there’s no way to know if I will finish these ten canvases before the curve flattens and hope returns.
Regardless, I did get that shipment of more canvases! Be safe, stay well, look inside, and create something new today.