Pictures at an exhibition

 

Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler copyright 2014

Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler copyright 2014.

In Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade, Rachel Cohen describes how Berenson, revolutionized art history by his beliefs that  “one did not need to be steeped in history or iconography in order to respond to paintings…one could  be in an active relationship with paintings…one’s own private and profound experiences of them was not just for the rich or gifted but a natural capacity of the human mind and therefore available to everybody.”  Paintings, wrote Berenson, “hate people that come to them with anything but perfect abandon.” This month an exhibit of my watercolors hangs at the Sweet Adeline Bakeshop in Berkeley. Watercolors lend themselves well to my life in transit: they are light to carry, rapidly used, and quick to dry. As I walk and bike near home and work, or travel, I discover stories in the landscape. Watercolors and brushes at the ready, I stop to capture the moment with quick sketches. Some of these sketches mature into more detailed works created back in the studio.

While I firmly believe historical context is not required to enjoy art, it does, without a doubt, add to the experience. Depicting wild or urban settings, my paintings draw inspiration from the Hudson River School and Tonalism, groups of artists who expressed their experience of nature in very different terms. Hudson River School painters – including Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt –  wrought panoramic vistas celebrating the magnificence of the land in sharply defining light. Emphasizing mood and shadow, the breaking dawn, gray or misty days, or light bleaching out sharp contrasts, Tonalist painters – such as George Inness and James McNeill Whistler –  softly rendered landscape forms in their paintings. Published in A Life in Photography, the painter and photographer Edward Steichen wrote “by taking a streetcar out to the end of the line and walking a short distance, I find a few wood lots. These became my stomping grounds, especially during autumn, winter and early spring. They were particularly appealing on gray or misty days, or very late in the afternoon or twilight. Under those conditions the woods had moods and the moods aroused emotional reactions that I tried to render…”For those of you unable to see the exhibit in person, I share the paintings with you now. Bring your perfect abandon and choose your perfect soundtrack to view the pictures at the exhibition.  Some may choose Mussorgsky, but for today’s viewing I choose Rufus Wainright‘s Release the Stars.

 

Torrey Pines early morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Torrey Pines early morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Swami's Beach at sunset looking south. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.

Swami’s Beach at sunset looking south. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.

Swami's Beach at sunset looking north. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Swami’s Beach at sunset looking north. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Swami's Beach at sunset on a rainy day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.

Swami’s Beach at sunset on a rainy day looking south. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.

View of Santa Cruz coastline and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

View of Santa Cruz coastline and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

Wind and Wave. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

Natural Bridges late afternoon. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014

Elkhorn Slough wetlands. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.

Elkhorn Slough wetlands mid-morning. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2014.

Moss Landing at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015

Moss Landing at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015

Pt. Lobos near Carmel mid-afternoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Pt. Lobos near Carmel mid-afternoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Sailboats on Alameda Estuary mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Sailboats on Alameda Estuary mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Oakland Skyline mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Oakland Skyline mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Oakland Terminal on Alameda Estuary mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Oakland Terminal on Alameda Estuary mid-day. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Storm over San Francisco view from Richmond wetlands. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Storm over San Francisco view from Richmond wetlands. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Grazing Sheep north of Point Reyes Station high-noon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Grazing Sheep north of Point Reyes Station high-noon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Black Mountain. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Black Mountain late afternoon. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Nicasio Reservoir at sunset.

Nicasio Reservoir at sunset.

Tomales Bay from Point Reyes Station storm moving in. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Tomales Bay from Point Reyes Station storm moving in. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2015.

Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler copyright 2014

Mt. Whitney at sunrise. Robin L. Chandler copyright 2014

View of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

View of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. Copyright Robin L. Chandler 2014.

green flash

Ocean Park: La Jolla Shores. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler

Ocean Park: La Jolla Shores. Copyright 2013 Robin L. Chandler

With our meeting finished, I took the opportunity to visit the beach near La Jolla Shores.  Late in the afternoon on a beautiful spring day, I thought perhaps with luck I’d see the Green Flash, described in Wikipedia, as the optical phenomena that can occur after sunset for no more than a second or two. Emerging from the car, I was greeted by another kind of green flash.  The angle of the sun this late in the afternoon brought dramatic lighting to the park by the beach.  Rows of palms stretching towards the blue sky, cast dramatic deep shadows on the verdant green grass flashing before me. As I stood there, inhaling the sweet smell of the sea air touching the desert landscape, my eyes immediately focused on the dramatic colors and the strong verticals and horizontals. It was a beautiful moment – a quintessential moment when one feels blessed to be alive. Perhaps this kind of scene  – my green flash – is what caught Richard Diebenkorn’s imagination inspiring him to create the paintings now known as the Ocean Park Series. Robert Henri’s words from The Art Spirit passed through my mind too: “the sketch hunter moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them, and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook.”  Would I be up to the task of sketching this scene?  I decided it was worth the risk and that I would hold on to the basic elements that first intrigued me.  Painting is like life, it is all to easy too get lost in the details.  Try to find what is important – your magnetic north –  and hold your course.  As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Our life is frittered away by detail…..simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.”

Field notes: rain and watersheds

Salmon returning to Redwood Creek. Created by Robin L. Chandler. Copyright 2010 National Park Service.

In early January 2011, we participated in what is becoming a beloved annual ritual: naturalist guided creek walks in the Lagunitas watershed seeking glimpses of Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout who have come home to spawn.  The Marin County based Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) is committed to restoring habitat, building community partnerships, and passing legislation supporting the survival of endangered Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout in California and the Pacific Basin. Thankfully SPAWN is not alone; all along the Northern California coast educational, research and non-profit organizations are engaged in activities to save endangered fish species. In Marin county, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is engaged in restoring salmon habitat along Redwood Creek and the river’s mouth at Muir Beach. While in Santa Cruz, increasing numbers of steelhead smolts are making their way along the San Lorenzo River back to the sea. Scientists attribute these rising numbers of Steelhead to increased rainfall and the efforts of citizens to reduce urban runoff and improve habitat.  These inroads are so important because some efforts in Southern California are foundering; recently the California Coastal Conservancy’s was forced to abandon’s its work to restore the Steelhead to San Mateo Creek in San Diego County.

For the past few years, we have been blessed with observing a pair or two of Salmon – their bodies touched with crimson – swimming upstream and building nests — called Redds – in preparation for laying eggs. But seeing these beautiful creatures is a rarity. Typically annual counts on the Lagunitas and San Geronimo creeks number only in the 60s.  Writing about Steelhead in The Sespe Wild, Bradley John Monsma described California a few centuries ago when “thousands of fish, fattened from the ocean, pool near the mouths of rivers…before dashing upstream to gravel spawning beds in the mountains.” Rain and healthy watersheds are essential for the survival of Salmon and Steelhead; rain provides easy passage for the journey upstream to lay eggs, and give birth to fry. Rain emboldens rivers and creeks to break the sand barriers to the sea permitting smolt to begin the ocean phase of their life.

People make a huge difference in building healthy watersheds. We need to care, we need to understand that our lives are better because these animals are part of our world. We need to grasp that we are living in a biodiversity crisis that can only be resolved by our understanding the power of our different interdependent lives.  Monsma quoting the human ecologist Paul Shepard writes “with the loss of species, we may be losing something essential to our humanity. It may be that we can approach the depth of ourselves only in relation to a diverse and healthy ecosystem” suggesting that mature societies are those that are “characterized by a view broad and forgiving involving a sense of the larger gift of life, a realistic sense of the self and other, a sense of the talents of generosity and circumspection.”

puede ir más allá en el año nuevo

May you go Furthur in the New Year. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

Thirty minutes after the doors opened, I walk off BART and onto the dance floor of the Bill Graham Auditorium, the party in full swing.  Cannabis clouds envelope me, crowds of swirling dervishes surround me, the lights paint me surreally and the band welcomes me, the words of an Estimated Prophet hang in the air “I’m in no hurry, no no no. I know where to go….California, preaching on the burning shore…..California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door…..like an angel, standing in a shaft of light. Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine.”  Synchronicity.  I am here.

Hours before I’d burned the two thousand miles from Austin to San Francisco; a western pilgrimage branded by rain, snow and wind. Somehow synched, the band breaks into Cold Rain and Snow “run me out in the cold rain and snow….and I’m going where those chilly winds don’t blow.“   Our road home through Abilene, San Angelo, Midlands, Van Horn, El Paso, Lordsburg, Tucson, Blythe and Los Angeles shared most of the 2,765-mile route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail.  The stagecoach operated from 1857- 1861 traversing the Great Plains, the Sonoran Desert and the San Joaquin Valley connecting St. Louis to San Francisco.  Evidence of ruts left by Butterfield stagecoach wheels, formed more than one hundred and fifty years ago, remains visible to hikers in the Anza Borrego Desert (East of San Diego).  Sobering is the power of mankind to create lasting change, or in the desert wilderness, permanent damage.  Leave no trace.  Good advice in the wilderness, but judging from the energy around me, the Grateful Dead left an important lasting impression.

The band breaks into Tennessee Jed singing “there ain’t no place I’d rather be, baby won’t you carry me.”  My mind flashes back to John Ford’s masterpiece Stagecoach the first film with a soundtrack scored entirely on American folksongs combining traditional Texas and  ballads, Stephen Foster compositions, hymns, tin-pan alley tunes and minstrel songs. Stagecoach’s theme contain the lyrics “O bury me not on the lone prairie…..
Where coyotes howl and the wind blows free…..By my father’s grave, there let me be….
O bury me not on the lone prairie.”  Roots of the Dead.  Synchronicity yet again.  
As if a messenger sent, my dear friend  emerges from the seven-thousand year-end revelers while the band sings Scarlett Begonias “once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.”  Synched once more.  My friend leans over and whispers “the jam builds with Phil and Bobby at the core, the keyboard and lead guitar forming the outer rings of sound….all echoed in the movements of the dancers.”   May we all be blessed in this New Year with such joyous synchronicity.

landscape of memory

On Sunday April 4, 2010 a 7.2  earthquake rocked Baja California and the desert lands near San Diego, Anza Borego and the Salton Sea.  For nearly a minute tectonic forces were oblivious to international boundaries and struggling peoples trying to make ends meet on either side of the border.

Anza-Borego Desert East of San Diego. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

Such a jolt shakes personal and collective memories  to the surface…quakes I have known myself such as October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta or quakes I have mythologized such as April 18,  1906  San Francisco.  On October 17, 1989 after leaving the Montgomery Street BART station, I walked the six miles home.  Gone were the thoughts of seeing the opening game of the World Series Giants versus the Athletics  as I hiked past the milling crowds of displaced persons, broken glass, fallen bricks, and scent of natural gas. I heard snatches of news from people sitting on their front porches with battery powered transistor radios reporting fires in the Marina District, the collapsed Cypress Structure in the East Bay, and the severe damage to the Bay Bridge.  I trudged onward uncertain as to what I would find at home in Noe Valley.   Sometime later, I reached the Mission District and walked up the Dolores Street hill where with enough elevation, I was able to get my first view of the city.  I turned slowly, dreading what I might see, but the city was intact — yes there were fires and yes I knew some person’s lives would be changed irrevocably, but at that moment it was not the chaos and extensive devastation I feared.  Suddenly I realized where I was standing  at 20th and Dolores the site of the Golden Hydrant.

Taking a quote from About.com “On the morning of April 18, 1906 on the slopes of Noe Valley overlooking the Mission district, Dolores Park was packed with displaced citizens watching the fire advance from downtown. This hydrant across the intersection of Dolores and 20th streets was found to have water, but the exhausted horses could not pull the fire engines up the hill. The people mobilized to do the job, then spread out under the firefighters’ direction and, with crude tools and hand labor, stopped the flames”  and saved the Mission District  from the advancing fire. This hydrant is painted gold in a special ceremony every April 18th at 5:40AM.

That sense of a shared history and a collective memory with San Franciscan’s past and their strength to rebuild after tragedy gave me courage to keep struggling forward. David Blight in his book Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War describes collective memory as “the ways in which groups, peoples, or nations remember, how they construct a version of the past and employ them for self-understanding and to win power and place in an ever-changing present.”  I think San Franciscan’s proudly tap collectively into the  memories and mythologies of the ’06 earthquake drawing strength to overcome these unstable times.

Aftershocks continue here in San Diego, and daily National Public Radio updates me with news of the 6.9 earthquake in Quinghai, China near Tibet and the eruption of the glacier bounded volcano in Iceland.   Amid these geologic statements that humble humankind reminding us that we cannot and should not expect to control all,  I continue to work on my paper  considering digital libraries and the  “Landscape of Memory” and think about the role of archivists in shaping history and memory as described by Rand Jimerson in Archives Power as generations pass, written records and other forms of documentation must take the place of personal memory….. Historians have also begun to recognize that archives are not simply locations to examine authentic and reliable records of the past, but are also active agents in the shaping of what we know of human history….the role of archivists in this interplay of history, truth, memory and evidence requires examination.  As collectors, guardians, appraisers and interpreters of the archival record, archivists actively shape society’s knowledge of the past. “

waves of glass

Fall is here.  There is a little chill in the air and the sun’s journey southward gives forth a particular quality of light.  This week has found me cycling as much as possible, and I naturally gravitate to the coast to ride the 101 as it meanders through the communities of La Jolla, Del Mar, Cardiff, Encinitas and Leucadia. Every few miles I get a spectacular view of crystalline blue waves peaking and crashing into torrents of white foam and see the surfers catch a wave and joyously ride the crest balanced precariously somewhere between chaos and nirvana. “Clear and sweet is my soul, clear and sweet is all that is not my soul,” wrote Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass.

Swamis_encinitas

Sunset North County San Diego: Swami’s Beach. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

A few weeks ago, I visited Cape Cod and I was thrilled to see a group of surfers anglin’ on ankle busters, but I think they imagined the waves as a bonsai pipeline.

Truro_CapeCod

Near Truro on Cape Cod. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

The view of the ocean from the saddle of my bike is where my soul opens up, and my spirit returns to balance.  On the bike, I scout out places to paint and observe the world at a pace that allows for interaction, reflection and a laugh or two.  Yesterday it was great fun to see  Surfrider Foundation members  on street corners  in Cardiff  for their “Hold onto Your Butts” campaign.  They were spending their Saturday morning reminding us that cigarette butts do not belong on the beach.  It is another of Surfrider Foundation’s good causes  part of their beach clean-up efforts  and their larger campaigns like “Save Trestles”  which kept a  toll road out of San Onofre State Park. They do good work.  They teach us to be responsible for our beaches and oceans as we should be for any good friend.   These are two watercolors that I’ve recently painted of late afternoons  in North County San Diego and Truro on Cape Cod.  Both pristine and soul redeeming spaces.

Toeing potshards

Monument Valley. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

In the late Spring, when we vacationed on the Colorado Plateau, I discovered a book by Patricia Limerick called Desert Passages.  Dr. Limerick describes the American encounter with deserts in terms of three attitudes towards nature “as a biological reality in human life…hunger, thirst, injury, disease and death….as an economic resource…a container of treasures awaiting extraction…or as an aesthetic spectacle. “  We affectionately called our trip the archaeology tour as we visited the ruins of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples at Wupatki, Monument  Valley, Mesa Verde, and Canyon de Chelly. Wave and I spent many hours at the ruins in quiet meditation while I attempted to capture the  essence of these amazing cultural resources on watercolor paper.

White House ruin, Canyon de Chelly

White House ruin, Canyon de Chelly. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

One of the great mysteries is what happened to the ancient peoples?  Archaeological evidence reveals that sometime in the late 13th century these peoples abandoned their homes amongst the mesas and canyon walls and it is theorized that environmental changes —  possibly extreme drought — caused these peoples to abandon their homes.  One feels a certain twinge given the current state of  drought in San Diego, Los Angeles and the rest of California, and of course the fire still burning in the San Gabriel mountains.   It is believed that they left the Colorado Plateau and migrated to join other pueblos along the Rio Grande river in New Mexico.   How would we best characterize the Ancient Pueblo peoples encounters with the desert?  As a biological reality?  Probably yes.  As an economic resource?  Probably yes.  As an aesthetic spectacle?  Probably yes.  We  preserve the artifacts they left us and look for answers in the patterns as we piece the pot shards together.   Ann Weiler Walka’s poem  “Other Dreams: Grand Gulch”  in Waterlines: Journeys on a Desert River gives us something to ponder.  “My thumb polishes the fragment of a bowl, its shallow curve delicately cross hatched with black…some woman dug this clay from a slip of mud…she kneaded the clay with sand and spun a ball into coils….she painted the bowl with a yucca leaf…and dreamed the design from her fingers…she blessed the bowl…that night in her sleep she saw clouds piling over a mesa, spirits coming home. She dreamed of the clay along the creek cool and slippery as a freshly opened heart.”