Back on the Flats
Vacations, especially family ones, can be complex, and even when things go smoothly, it often takes a few days to relax.
On the tidal flats in Brewster on the Cape, it only takes me about three minutes into my first walk to melt into a blissed-out state, which is then repeated every time I set foot on the wet sand. From the beach entrance, it doesn’t look like much (where did all the water go?). Once you are striding across the sandflats, though, the effect is riveting. The shifting sky is vividly reflected in the tidal pools, so different from when the waves come in at high tide on the bay, and the constantly changing shapes of sandbars and tidal pools as I walk the mile or so out to the last bar are elegant and mesmerizing. The knowledge that I am walking on the bottom of the bay, that in a few hours the water on the sandbar that I tread will be over my head, intensifies the ephemeral wonder of the moment. My body in motion creates a stream of new shapes and colors, the movement of the tide alters the shapes of the tidal pools and sandbars, and the sky’s constant change is reflected in the pools. I move with purpose, as if I have a happy but important job to do.
Over the years, I become more and more fascinated with watching it in all its familiarity and constant transformation.
For a landscape painter, sense of place is always key. I often contend, though, that for the artist the painting needs to be more important than the place—that to even capture the place, any place, you need to keenly focus on the dynamics of color, composition, surface, and edges, while engaged in the process, and that mood will follow. The tidal flats experience transends this argument perfectly, though, providing the feel that I want to evoke both in my work and to experience while working—wide open, expansive, joy-infused serenity set in moments of crystalline focus—and this over a period of time, the body moving and engaged.
Moving from bliss to pictoral analysis, the shapes of the sandbars, tidal pools, and clouds over the flats lend themselves to the kind of color field painting that I love—essentially and yet barely a landscape. The interlocking shapes of the elements are sometimes subtle and others assertive; sometimes elegant and others odd, and like nothing else in the natural world.
Binary of mutually exclusive truths: the essence of sense of place and the purest abstraction.