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.