Thursday, August 26, 2010

"A Special Meal"

"I once had a sparrow alight on my shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden,
and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than
I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn" ~Henry David Thoreau

"A Special Meal", oil on panel, 24"x18", was a painting that needed to be completed from the moment I saw the photograph on which it is based. I was in Virginia visiting with Chris McCandless's parents Walt and Billie, and they generously showed me the photographs that Chris took on his two year odyssey from 1990-1992. The vast majority of the photographs were beautiful, informative, poignant. However a handful stood out to me as truly iconic. That man had some seriously wonderful skill with a camera, a carefully composed eye, and I was moved to tears looking through them.

I am fascinated by subtlety, by the hint of movement, by the careful yet spontaneous placement of objects, body language and expressions. This painting clearly shows a deliberation, a method, Chris's plan of laying out this special meal for himself in Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail. He composed the table setting as he composed all of his photographs-with care and planning. When I first saw it I was struck with how happy he must have been to survey this pocket of civility that he had created in such a rough and raw landscape.

A knife that Chris probably acquired from Jan Burres, a friend of his who he met in California is set on a faded napkin. A spoon from his childhood home in Annandale is there as well, along with a fork and various pans and bowls that hunters have left in the bus over the years. A green tin is smoking to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Bug dope and his camera case are situated next to other jars and perhaps some rendered moose fat in a jar. Some berries sit in a bowl, perhaps to be enjoyed as a desert, or perhaps as a condiment for the moose meat in the bowl. There is an undeniable energy here. There is the expectation and the knowledge that he probably enjoyed this meal very much. It echoes back to how despite the most primitive conditions, we often revert to customs and habits and are ingrained within our beings at the deepest level.

This painting has been two years in the making. It has sat in the back of my mind while I worked on my "Newfoundland Portraits" exhibition last year, and it has stayed there while I have completed commissions for clients and other personal work. But at last I was able to begin it while staying for five weeks in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory in May. I wanted to paint it on board because the thickness and texture reminded me of the makeshift table that Chris used. It had a rough, natural quality to it that I liked.

After visiting Bus 142 for a third time, just three weeks ago now, I still look fondly at objects in this painting that remain in the bus. I do hope they remain there for visitors to see who have come to pay respect to Chris and his journey. I have now completed about 13 paintings based on Chris's photos and experiences. If you wish to see the other paintings I have completed about Chris click on the numbers. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,.  Although I never met him, I am able to try to see through his eyes as I paint the landscapes and moments that he deemed special, that means something to him. It is important to not rush past places of beauty, but to really see them for what they are. I paint to understand, to examine, and to become familiar with things that compel me to put brush to canvas. Whether it be the human form, the curve of a hillside, or eating utensils, it is what they represent that is alluring. For they then cease to be just an object and instead become what energy and memory we attach to them.

I will be posting new information soon on this blog and my other blog, Heather's Paintings and Musings about an upcoming DVD and Book of Christopher's photos and writings. Anyone who has been moved and/or affected by the life of this extraordinary young man should see/read them!

If you wish to find out more about Chris, his life, and the Memorial Fund created in his name to help needy children please visit: 

Christopher McCandless Info 
Chris's Purpose

"You shall above all things be glad and young.
 For if you're young, whatever life you wear it will become you;
 and if you are glad whatever's living will yourself become." ~e.e. cummings


Anonymous said...

As I said before, I love this series. I LOVE Chris's story and what you and his family are doing. I can't wait to get my hands on this book and DVD. Beautifully painted. And what an honor and joy it must be for you to be able to see his photos first hand and see what he saw. Great job and agian, I can't wait it!

Jana Rosser

Kim said...

Heather, what a poignant post. This piece of yours, and the composition Chris set up, is really wonderful. What a terrific body of work. It almost feels like you've picked up the torch on his journey...