The Power of Place

Last week I completed this painting in Kensington Metro Park on one of those days when it's so beautiful, you're just happy to be alive to experience it. It's paintings like these that I find most difficult to sell. Not because I am in love with the painting, but because I don't want to part with the sense memories that is brings back every time I see it. It was a quiet day with a slight cool breeze, and so sitting partially in the sun, the temperature was perfect. It was too early for bugs. Jacque, my dog, played along the shore or laid in the grass by my feet, rolling first on one side and then the other to warm his fur in the sun. I have a sense of place when I look at this painting. Something that you don't possess unless you have personally visited a place and spent time there.

I'll never forget going to the Grand Canyon and seeing it for the first time after years of looking at spectacular photos and paintings. Nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had there. I arrived many hours after sunset, and so I could not see anything when I went to the edge of the canyon. I made a decision to be at the edge at sunrise, and so I set my alarm for 5am the following morning. It was very cold pre-dawn the next morning and I knew I'd never make it without coffee. There was a dining hall I had passed the night before and I hoped it was open. To my surprise, there was a line in the cafeteria. I got my coffee and headed for the first overlook, about 15 minutes away. The parking lot was about half full, at 6am! I descended the stairs in the haze of early morning light and I could just make out the opposite side of the canyon. Without sunlight, it looked flat, gray and uninteresting. At the bottom of the staircase, close to 50 people stood on the east side of platform looking towards the brightest part of the sky. Steam rose from their cups and their lips as they whispered quietly to each other in many different languages. Some people stood quietly, alone, as I was with cameras around their necks. We were all waiting for the same thing, and it brought us together in a way people come together to worship.

After about a half hour, the sun broke over the southeast wall of the canyon and its golden light caressed the north face. There was silence except for the clicking of camera shutters all around me. I was awestruck by how quickly the sun moved across the canyon, changing everything in its path. People were crying and hugging each other. My eyes welled up too. A couple from Italy hugged strangers until 10 minutes earlier. They had moved from their place on the railing to let me get a better photo of the lower part of the canyon. All this was done in near silence. People whispered if they spoke at all, so as not to disrupt the experience...the worship.

I still have the photos of that morning in the Grand Canyon, and every time I look at them, I remember that experience. It's often not the beauty of the photo, or the painting that draws me to cherish it. It is the power of the place, the experience that I had there and the time that I spent.

This is what Plein Air painting is all about for me. Capturing the experience and emotion on canvas. That sense of peace, or quiet, or power or worship of a place I want to give to another. That's why I paint.


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