The Known and the Unknown, Part I
The Known and the Unknown, Part II
Barns as Metaphor
I'm always curious how artists actualize a feeling, idea or concept. What choices are made and why? How were they implemented? I recently completed a series of barns, and for those who are similarly curious, I thought I'd share how I approached it.
Part of what makes the North Coast so appealing is its sense of isolation, a feeling embodied by the old barns that cling to the bluffs along Highway 1. Over the course of twenty-some years, these barns, for me, have also become emblematic of the character of the people who inhabit the coast: stalwart,
faithful guardians of the land and water around them.
And because our tribe is a predominantly gray-haired lot, I've also come to see these barns as symbolic of our ongoing desire and struggle to stay rooted on this remote stretch of coast, despite the isolation and lack of services. Many of us hope to just quietly implode in place like an ancient cypress tree—or one of our cherished, dilapidated old barns.
The Barn Series started with a painting of the barn at Meyers Grade. This barn sits at the top of a bluff above the town of Jenner. On the long drive up the coast, it's a comforting landmark, a sign that you're nearly home. I wanted to convey that sense of "home" and "comfort." When I look at the painting now, I see the influence of the old folk art traditions of Virginia and New England, where I lived for many years. It has an almost quilt-like feel, with patches of bright and neutral colors laid side-by-side.
The barn at Rocky Point has a more impressionistic, dreamlike quality. Despite the heavy fog rolling in over the bluff, the foreground is filled with improbably vibrant, shifting colors. It reminds me of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy arrives in Oz and the movie shifts from black and white to color.
Moving northward, the barn at Black Point on The Sea Ranch is an intimidating subject because it's so iconic—I wasn't sure what new, if anything, I could bring to it. The scene is so beautiful and expansive and pastoral, it could be an Andrew Wyeth painting. So just to be contrary, I decided to try the opposite—stripping down the composition, intensifying the colors, and using broad brushstrokes. It's a happy, life-affirming painting—a sort of celebration of the elation you feel standing at the edge of the Pacific. It wasn't until much later that I noticed the movement of the grass pulls us toward the open barn door. And that led to the next two barn paintings.
In The Known and the Unknown, Parts I and II, we have the known, physical world of the land and sea around us, and the unknown, metaphysical world represented by the barn doors. We're at once curious and apprehensive. Should we explore or resist?