I am almost completed with my commitment to painting many of Oregon’s Most Endangered Places for Restore Oregon. They will auction the images at the Restoration Celebration dinner to raise monies to further the cause of restoration and saving pieces of our cultural heritage. When Restore Oregon asked me to paint the buildings, many of the available images were not inspiring to my painterly eye. They are worthy causes with interesting histories, but I need to be inspired or excited visually in order to create more than a mediocre but well executed rendering. I need to connect in some deeper way.
I was working sometimes with tiny black and white fuzzy photographs, or snapshots from family albums, or a boarded up place I could visit, but which would not be an inspiring subject. In retrospect, I connected to the locations by finding a way into the piece through contemplation or some other means. In doing so, I think I understand what others must find, possibly for themselves, in order to be excited about history, historical buildings, architectural restoration, or why “that old thing” should be saved.
Similarly, the importance of inspiration must not be overlooked when it comes to inducting the public into support for preservation efforts. How do we do that for the masses, who are not sitting around thinking of how to be inspired?
Art is one path. Artists induct people by communicating their thrill or love
through a medium that enters into the viewers (or listeners) senses unawares.
It is the difference in announcing that this or that event is going on, which is preaching to the crowd because the ones who will go are already connected or excited about the event, versus inspiring someone to become interested in an event or happening.
In creating these pieces, some were easy inspirations.
Barn red on blue water sings to my soul, taking me back to a Southern California where barns sat next to open ranches on the clear blue Pacific Ocean. Heaven.
Who doesn’t love a carousel horse?
But to paint the Rivoli I had to imagine my mom, swooning over all-things-Hollywood when she was a girl, for whom going to the movies was an exciting happening! I walked in her shoes, imagining the neon sign in the small town of San Fernando, the ritual of going into the dark theater, a shrine, to be transported in an uncommon manner to a swashbuckling time. Coming out and walking down Main Street in San Fernando to the ice cream parlor to talk about Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, and boys boys boys.
To paint Fort Rock I remembered growing up in California
when there were still places (now completely populated)
where you turned off your car or cabin lights and the world around you was silent except for the waves or the breath of horses.
You could see the horizon glow from the galaxy’s lights,
and smell the natural herbal smells of the earth and ocean.
I imagined being in that great Eastern Oregon basin as a homesteader, and the wonder of the wide open spaces.
And, how happy I might be to see other people!
How I would appreciate the creature comforts of dwelling!
I’ve shared my images, and if I am successful, my emotional connection may come through. Even if the viewer does not know why, they might feel some of what I felt when painting them. They might smell the sage or hear the music! However, in this day of blogging, it is also an adventure (for me) to be able to read or listen to why and how an artist connected with a subject. This is why I take the time to write about what I thought and felt, and how I found my way into the most difficult places.
NOTE TO ARTISTS: I know somewhere during this post artist’s eyes began to roll because they though “Never ever donate your art.” Yes, I know, and this is the first time, and I’ve made an exception because Restore Oregon is a cause I believe in, period.
©D. Katie Powell.
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