Friday, April 23, 2010

"To The Sea"

“There's no mastery to be had. You love the attempt.
You don't master a story any more than you master a river.
You feel lucky to canoe down it." ~Garrison Keillor

"To The Sea", oil on canvas, 24"x36" is another painting inspired by the journeys of Christopher McCandless. For this piece, I used Chris's own photo reference of his epic adventure down the Colorado River towards the Sea of Cortez in Mexico in the autumn of 1990. Chris bought the Grumman canoe second hand and began to make his way down the river, ostensibly ending up in the Sea of Cortez. Little did he know however, that after crossing the border into Mexico, the river would be diverted into smaller veins and irrigation canals that would thwart his progress and make a clear path to the sea impossible.

Fortunately some Mexican duck hunters helped him to the Pacific Ocean where he continued his adventure south down the coastline. Chris spent a total of 36 days without seeing a single soul, subsisting on fish from the ocean and surviving a dust storm that forced him into a cave for 10 days. He finally decided to abandon the canoe on some dunes when he was almost blown out to sea and broke a paddle in the great effort it took to make it back to land.

Why did I choose to paint this piece from 300 photos that Chris took? For one thing I am moved greatly by the courage it took him to follow a path into the unknown, to have his line of sight as his main navigational tool. I certainly don't have that courage! Also, I love the point-of-view from his canoe...there is an anonymity to it. Most of us have sat in a canoe or kayak and can appreciate that streamlined perspective that we know so well.

Another reason I am was compelled to paint this scene is how Chris's worldly possessions are discernible from the viewer's vantage point. His small, collapsible chair, his sleeping bag, his backpack....these objects that are so important to his adventure, these necessary ingredients can be seen and so for the complete picture of what exactly he carries with him as he paddles into the unknown.

Simplicity, in life and art, is often the best approach. The composition in this painting is pretty simple, with a muted palette of dusty greys, blues and greens. I like the balance of sky to land. and there is lots of room for the viewer's eye to rest. It is symbolic. It symbolizes the untrodden path, the fork in the road, the choice to experience life as acutely as possible. A busy canvas is not always a good thing. If you provide all of the answers, it takes the mystery out of it. I have never presumed to know what a viewer might think when they look at my paintings, just as we don't know what Chris was thinking when he took the photo that I based this painting on. The NOT knowing is magical. The uncertainty is important. Perhaps the questions are even more important than the answers. I believe they are.

Have a beautiful day, wherever you are...

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler."
~Henry David Thoreau


Kim said...

Well said Heather. And love the quote by Thoreau. Your painting is serene, strong and absolutely lovely.

Vern Schwarz said...

I have sat in this canoe, but not on this particular river or in this country. I love your narrative and the beautiful clean lines. The smooth brushwork gives a very calm affect. Great painting.

Heather Horton said...

Thank-you both very much. I really appreciate it. It is great to get back to blogging. It is quite cathartic :) Have a beautiful day!

Youn C said...

Amazing! Your work is gorgeous. As for Thoreau-- the lives of men lead lives of quiet desperation. I prefer Emerson though. ;D