Fine snow creates the atmospherics in this piece, with tiny far-off headlights providing the only warmth. (Private Collection.)
For years I edited out of my paintings all reference to vehicles, and often even the roads themselves. As I started to become interested in objects created by humankind, first power lines, then a skyline, and eventually exploring smokestacks and watertowers, far-off lights and even the occasional barn, headlights started to intrigue me.
I painted my first headlights piece in 2001, a pastel of an SUV with looming headlights fleeing a tornado, which I exhibited the summer of that year, entitled “Ahead of the Storm”. I have been credited with prescience for that timing (we also called the exhibition by the same name), but feel instead that the title describes a sort of state of existence that is not constant but reoccurring. The storm might symbolize the real threats that we face in life, or it could be the accumulation of all of our “to-do”s, threatening to run amuck.
As I have continued to explore headlights more extensively, I have discovered how unique they are, each set with differing halos, color around the white of the center, shapes, and symmetry between the pairs. Some reflect on the road, some not.
I often prefer a lonely pair or two of headlights on a rural road, partly because I am, at heart, a minimalist, and partly because this seems to be quite unexplored terrain for the landscape painter. A friend once characterized these pieces as “Country Noir”.
Below, I have included a brief commentary on some of my favorites, of the road and from the road.
- The road piece that has it all, “Trove: From the Road”. 16 separate oil paintings of 3″X5″/each. Some are images from the road, of the road, and others are looking off from bridges and roadways. Unlike some of my work that captures a mood more than the details of a spot, each one of these is of a particular locale—the West Side Highway; Route #28 near Phoenicia; New Jersey; Nebraska; Cape Cod, New Paltz, and so on.
Angles and rosey light... (Private collection.)
One of my first urban landscapes, and still a favorite, an off-ramp on the West Side Highway with winter light on the Hudson. (Private Collection.)
One of my Affinity Series, with frayed linen and graphite gridding. The extreme vertical format was the most fun for me---a compositional challenge.
One type of triptych, three variations on a theme. A rainy evening on Route #28 near Phoenicia. The cropping and placement of the headlights cause the eye to move up and down diagonally as it reads the image left to right, contributing to an overall sense of movement.
An Affinity that also uses a vintage support for a frame---I believe an old sign. One of my favorite bridge crossings, heading over to the Mass Pike. (Private Collection.)
- Sunset/dusk is often bittersweet, even more so when the image is of a car on a lonely road. You can sense the solitary feeling of the driver, perhaps mitigated by a promise of home. Both the abstract and the narrative have strong presences in this piece.
Another small piece using a vintage support, the image as simple as can be. The crack on the slate to the right serves as a nonliteral compositional element.
Crazy, tilting angles of road and power lines, counterlit black trees in front with sun and fog breaking on the fall foliage behind. (Private collection.)
One very early morning on the way to catch the ferry to Martha's Vineyard, the fog and the sky kept changing for the longest time, from warm to blue/green, but consistantly with wild gleams and glows. It went on and on... lightshow after lightshow. I have been painting that dawn ever since, here with the road in front occupied by vehicles with taillights, a manmade element to play off of the amazing sky. (Private Collection.)
An Affinity, the headlights and their reflections the focus.
From the George Washington Bridge. (Private Collection.)
Another kind of triptych, one image divided into three panels, in a soft, red-green palette.
My very recent road painting, another moment during that same dawn drive.