Wednesday, November 13, 2019

November Elegy

Contrails, oil on panel, 12 x 16,  private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2012

     The last of the leaves are falling. Yellows and oranges recently splashed the hillsides; now they have smoldered into deeper reds, the embers of last decline, and many-fisted winter advances, promising blows. Tall grasses turn wan and fade. Their seeds fall.  Lord, You cover them over and number every resting place in the decomposing soil, the spirit abiding and awaiting water, light and osmotic warmth, when after months have passed, Advent and waiting, the Earth turns toward the sun again.
      O Lord, summer is ended, and You keep it hidden, but You will raise it up again when its time comes. Insects in their billions have withdrawn into burrows and hives, cocoons and piles of leaf litter, in places unknown to us. They crawl under the bark of a billion trees, into every crevice and knot, into the joints between the boards on the sides of a hundred million houses times twenty, between the sashes and the glass where putty has dried and crumbled, into warm interiors; You know them all, every single place there is. You traverse every pitched and fallen bit of debris, every crevice unseen, every gallery of space under the arc of a fallen, withered leaf. You can distinguish, in the mold and litter of the soil, where worms burrow deep to avoid the frost, what is the dry fragment of a disintegrated flower and what is the particle of a leaf stem broken multiple times under plodding feet, and whose feet they were, and where they were going, and what good or no-good they were up to.
     You sent the birds on their way, they are gone. Some will return, some never will. You know which will mate and nest, which nests will be robbed by crows or knocked down in target practice by boys, eggs shattered, hatchlings stranded on the ground, sport for cats. You know which will be food for hawks, which brought up short by exploding shot, which diving swallows will be smashed against windshields and which will pirouette aside just in time, pursuing the food You send them; you know which songbirds will end stuck with skewed feathers in the plastic grill going before some person rushing in pursuit of vanity, inches from a near-boiling radiator. You alone grieve completely and with full knowledge all of nature groaning under the consequences of the fall; our human will, our puny self-assertion, our highways and proud bridges, broken arches, roofless abbeys, bombed out cities and buried ruins. You know my seeking after the love and approval of other fallen creatures, my seeking to appear fit and capable before them, my secret approval of that falsity, my pride in despising the pride of others, my vanity in opposing their vanity. (For man it is impossible, but for You all things are possible.) You offer Yourself to us, but we prefer ourselves, the favor and consideration and glances of others. When such is withheld by us from each other – for often the heart of the lover is most beloved to itself – you remain faithful, for you cannot be otherwise. You are above and below, north and south, left and right; I squeeze my eyes shut, You are behind my eyelids, Your thumbprint is glowing.
Blaze, oil on panel, 11 x 14, private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2007
     I am at Your feet; I do not dare to raise my eyes. I hang between heaven and earth, on the cross of all the nothing which I dread, of every false aspiration and hope; everything I desired other than You blown away like fat cruising clouds on a summer afternoon, or the dissipating contrails of swift jets speeding high above the earth to…somewhere else, where I hope I will somehow no longer be what I am. You are complete and have already given me everything I could possibly offer back to You, none of which You need, in any case. You offer me yourself and I wail, “Not now (I am no saint)! Leave me Lord; you are I AM, but I am sinful.” I would rather have things go my way. I would rather possess vainly for a little while that home, that brief fortunate time, those loved ones, that embrace that was the sun of desire around which my life revolved but which is now extinguished. You know where that went too; You are the God of the living and not of the dead, and You are present to all, be they present to You, or not.
     You love me, whether I love you, or not. I am at Your feet; I do not dare to raise my eyes. “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!”
     You reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
     “Lord” I say, “I want to see.”
     You answer, “Do you want to see? Can you bear to see what I see? The millions and billions surging and groping; murder and fornication hand in hand, - every single incident of it, hurried, hidden and lied about. Children prostituted, every one of them and every moment of their lives. Lies propagated as if there will be no accounting for it. Whited sepulchers and the tombs of the prophets. ‘Where is God’ you say, as you stack abominations, ‘why doesn’t He stop me?’ Abandoned children, abandoned women, abandoned men. Ruined, raped and brutalized – whole families, communities, nations. You see just one or two by the roadside begging, and you avert your eyes because the sight makes you squirm. You continue along your way, following after your thief, while the Son of Man walks the road to Jerusalem. Can you bear to see what I see? Can you bear to love as I love?”
     Lord, the slave of all, You attend me; You lead me, Your cross goes before me; I am ashamed. You teach me by thorough ways. Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother. You discipline me and You bind my wounds. You leave silver for me with the innkeeper, and pledge to return and make good any debt. You give me viaticum. “Peter, son of Jerome, do you love Me?” You ask. “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.”

Repose, 12 x 16, oil on panel, private collection
Copyright Peter Bougie 2011

Some of the scripture passages referenced:
Psalm 139; Romans 8:22; Matthew 10:29; Matthew 19:26; Luke 20:28;  2 Timothy 2:13; Mark 12:27; Mark 10:47; Matthew 20:22; Luke 22:34; Psalm 42; Psalm 50:18; John 15:13; Hebrews 12:11; Luke 5:8; Matthew 20:18;  Psalm 136:25; Luke 10:25-37; John 21:15; 1 Kings 19:7; Matthew 15:14; Matthew 23: 27.



Sunday, June 9, 2019

Annunciation

Annunciation, work in progress
oil on canvas, 34 x 24
Copyright 2019 Peter Bougie
           The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is related in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, in twelve verses, 26 – 38. The angel Gabriel, sent from God, appears and offers the salutation “Hail, full of grace” (“to whom grace is given, favored one”).[1] “The Lord is with you.”  Mary was troubled and did not know what the appearance of the angel or his greeting meant. The angel announces that she has been chosen to conceive and bear a son who will be named Jesus, and that he shall be great and called “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). She is astonished, and asks “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1: 34) Gabriel reassures her that the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon her and that the power of the Most High will overshadow her; conception will not take place by ordinary means. He notes a connection to another miraculous event, that Mary’s elder cousin Elizabeth has also conceived a son and is in her sixth month. Then Mary consents, saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” The Catholic Encyclopedia provides a succinct summary of this moment: “Mary may not yet have fully understood the meaning of the heavenly message and how the maternity might be reconciled with her vow of virginity, but clinging to the first words of the angel and trusting to the Omnipotence of God”[2] she consented.
            In this painting in progress, I have endeavored to show the moment of Mary’s meeting with Gabriel. She has raised her head from her book and turned it to look at him. She is in the process of understanding what he is saying. Her hand lingering over the vicinity of her heart indicates the intimacy of her devotion to the Lord, and also her effort to grasp what is being told her. That it is suspended there, for a moment, indicates that an effort of her will was required in her choice. The book is the single prop I have chosen to include, and it represents Jesus “the Word” (John, 1:1). Mary is our model of humility and consent to God’s will. Years later, at the wedding in Cana, she tells the serving people to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, in regard to the water and the wine. This remark is recorded because we are meant to understand that she always points the way to Jesus.
Study for Annunciation, detail
Charcoal and chalk
Copyright 2019 Peter Bougie

            There is some difference between the expression and the tip of the head in the charcoal study and in the painting. I also altered the hand from the study to the painting. It seems to me the expression in the study is more indicative of her first response to Gabriel, “How can this be?”, and the painting more indicative of her consent. I painted the head directly from life, but when my model Katie’s time was up, I continued working, making some corrections from the drawing and striving to imitate the expression of the study. However, after several sessions I put the brushes down and stepped away from the work, as I regularly do, and upon returning endeavored to see what I was doing with a fresh eye. At that moment I realized the expression I had painted might be more suitable than the one I had drawn. The grace of God can only work if we don’t get in the way.
Annunciation painting in progress
detail
Copyright 2019 Peter Bougie
          I want to emphasize again that this is a work in progress. I began work on the charcoal and chalk study about the end of February (2019). Mary’s face and hands are mainly finished. My model was available until the end of April, so naturally I concentrated on those parts of the work. The veil and robe now adorn a mannequin. The drapery and the background in these photos are at an intermediate stage. The photos are not professional, merely my own snapshots, and do not represent the color very well.
            Thanks to Joan T., for making the veil, the robe and the sash for my model to wear; and thanks to my model, Katie D., who posed well and diligently for many hours in the veil and the robe for this project. By way of consolation, and distraction from the tedium of posing and of me, she had the music of Palestrina, Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart, among others.


New website & Podcast Interview with Emilio Longo




Please check out our new website, courtesy of Nora’s talent and hard work, at: https://www.peterbougie.com/
Some corrections and tweaking remain to be done. Many thanks to Nora.

You may also hear a podcast interview with me here: http://skillbasedart.weebly.com/podcasts.html
This interview was conducted in January 2019 by Emilio Longo of Skill Based Art. Mr. Longo is based in Melbourne, Australia.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Follow Me


Head of St. Peter
St. Peter Chapel, Cathedral
of St. Paul
St. Paul, MN
      I often stop at the Cathedral of St. Paul when I have some spare time and pray in the St. Joseph chapel, on the north side near the main entrance. When I say pray, I mean I kneel or sit quietly and strive to maintain a receptive attitude toward the Holy Spirit, in all feebleness and need. I do not pray because I am holy; I pray in the realization that I am not holy. I may say a few prayers for persons or other intentions that come to mind. I may say some Hail Mary’s if I am troubled with resentments or other vexations; I may recite the Jesus prayer to calm myself if my mind is churning with noise. However, mostly I am trying to keep a kind of watch. I look and listen interiorly for the sign of something moving lightly among the delusions of my every-day consciousness. Occasionally I will receive a moment of exceptional clarity of mind. It might be verbally articulate, almost like an instruction; or it may be some interior illumination that doesn’t bend to articulation. Sometimes these experiences provide help with some difficulty I am having in some area of my life; sometimes they leave me with a peaceful or hopeful feeling. Sometimes they startle me uncomfortably into greater wakefulness, having cast light on things I’ve kept in the dark. Some days, if I come in the afternoon before evening Mass, I will hear the group that recites the rosary in the St. Mary chapel on the opposite side, their voices murmuring in the rhythm of the prayer, something like holy white noise. On the rare occasion I am there in the morning after Mass, I will hear a group of devotees singing and chanting Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
      One mid-morning after sitting like this I rose and as I walked away from the chapel it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard any voices or footsteps for some time. I walked out into the main part of the sanctuary and it looked like I was all alone in the cathedral. There was no one in sight and no sound of any movement. Even quiet movements rustle and echo in that vast interior. I detected nothing stirring beyond the bronze grilles set in a half circle behind the high altar. The bronze crucifix and the golden tabernacle rested under the baldachin. At the four corners where the transept intersects the nave, and where the four main piers uphold the dome, stand the twice as large as life statues of the four evangelists. It was a peculiar sensation to have this ornate richness to myself, like having my room to myself when a boy, daydreaming, fifty-five years ago. But what a room this was! I was humbled, sized proportionally in spirit as I was physically to the great building; yet also it seemed the right size, neither too big nor too small, and theologically correct as well. As He would’ve have died just for me, had I been the only sinner, so He saw fit to regale me privately for a moment, in the house made for love of Him, because he is delighted to do so. That’s all.
      For all that, the cathedral is something made for Him, and obviously not Christ Himself. What He delights to give is passing away with the rest of my life; His intention is that I follow Him, and not remain where I am.
Blaze, 11 x 14, oil on panel
Copyright Peter Bougie 2007 private collection
      I have had a similar sensation at times while painting in front of nature, where He is present in his creation which, I imagine, if we could see it as He sees it, would not look anything like it does to us. I paint the observations of three or six or twenty or forty hours. No two moments are the same; distinct incidents define each one. I observe some of these incidents and make a resemblance to nature, something others recognize as a likeness of what they see. It looks like a moment but is really the sum of many moments. He sees a river in its valley or a forest or an ocean like we might see it if we were able to make some sort of time lapse photograph spanning eons of time, and even then, our film would only show the outward appearances of things. It would not show all the weaver birds weaving nests, worms burrowing or the ten thousand times twenty scurryings in leaf litter occurring in one acre, or sap rising in trees, or osmosis through cell membranes, or the process of photosynthesis exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide a billion billion times, or so I suppose. He sees not only the contrails when the flight has passed, but the landing, the takeoff, the serving of refreshments, the manufacture of the airplane, the whole flight history of the crew, the slightest variances in instrument readings from reality, and the anxiety of the traveler far from home. Even the hairs on our heads are counted, but generally not by us.
Contrails, 12 x 16, oil on panel
Copyright 2012 Peter Bougie private collection
      I paint my picture, and as I am fond of saying, if it is any good at all it’s as if He answers me and says “That’s not bad, kid. [I am not a kid to anyone but Him anymore] Now let’s see if you can hit the curve ball.” So, he throws it low and away and I reach for it; he throws it high and tight and I corkscrew myself into the ground. 
      I also sometimes pray in the St. Peter chapel, south of the high altar. I usually do penance there after receiving absolution following confession. How do I know I am absolved from my sins? How do I know the priest is in persona Christi, as far as the Sacrament is concerned? What did Jesus mean when he said, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” ? [John 20:23] Did he give the apostles the authority to forgive sins, or not? When the apostles laid hands on their successors, did they transmit the authority transmitted to them, or not?
St. Peter Chapel
Cathedral of St. Paul
St. Paul, MN
    
      I always feel thankful in that chapel, and optimistic at the feet of Peter. He could blunder and bluster and even betray Jesus, yet have contrition, and be called a saint. It was part of our Lord's intention to arrange things that way. When Peter first met Jesus and had heard Him speak, he answered his command: Master, we have fished all night and caught nothing; but if you say so, we will cast out our nets. And Peter thought, these teachers – He gets into my boat and tells me how to fish. Who does he think he is? And then the nets are full to bursting, and Peter makes his first act of contrition: Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. [paraphrasing Luke 5: 1-8]
      But He would not depart from Peter, and He will not depart from us. Look for him on the water, in the dark, like a ghost, or asleep on a pillow in the stern; or standing alone before the Sanhedrin, falsely accused, and no one speaks in his behalf.
      You, He says, follow me.
     
     
     



Thursday, October 4, 2018

Angels (and Fisherman's Rest Revisited)


We had the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Archangels, recently; and the celebration of the Guardian Angels shortly after that. I want to pause a moment to reflect on this. If we are thinking about the angels, let us try to remove from our minds whatever popularized or sentimentalized images may be pasted on them. Recall how the first reactions of persons in Scripture when confronted by angels are often of fear, and one of the first things the angel often says before delivering whatever message it brings is “Do not be afraid.” (Some links and references about angels are listed below.) I try to imagine an unexpected meeting with an angel by imagining being suddenly met with a person of imposing presence, striking appearance, and an air of authority, addressing themselves unexpectedly and directly to me and plainly expecting a clear and definitive response. As if before you can even say “Can I get back to you on that” the answer is “Respond, or not. Come with me, or stay where you are” Not that they are in a hurry, or that they are going to force me to go anywhere. And angels exist in eternity, so "later", as we understand it, is not even an option. Rather, I always have a choice to make about whether I am with the Lord, or not. Faith is not a matter of what I feel about God but about the relationship I have with Him. Jesus became flesh and walked the dusty, treacherous roads of 1st century Palestine so that the Ancient of Days, the Triune God, could be approachable in form and spirit: fully human, and fully divine. 

The Ancient of Days
William Blake, 1794
Public domain, Wikimedia art
In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus strongly urges that we follow him without delay. “And another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.’ Jesus answered him, ‘No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:61-62) Of this passage, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “There is the time of being called in which the decision is present, and it is more important than what we have thought out for ourselves and what is in itself quite reasonable. The reason of Jesus and his summons have precedence: they come first.”[i] As I said above, I always have a choice to make about whether I am with the Lord, or not. Impatience, sloth, resentment, fearfulness – even duty– or the Lord? Maybe that approach to the passage is scrupulous, or legalistic, or even trivial. Jesus was always teaching, and here He deliberately sets adherence to Him against another good thing, duty to family. He calls us to recognize not so much a hierarchy of values, but the greatest good. Remember that He said “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Since that is so, other goods flow from that; they cannot be separate. The course of the river is below the source, never above. Grace flows downhill, as it were. Pride by nature is uphill of grace. You’ve heard that you can’t go home again; you can’t get to grace from pride, either. Doesn’t any preference I have for my own way, over against the truth, have a taproot in pride?
     
If I am scrupulous (prideful) regarding sinful shortcomings, I might miss a harmful attachment to something good of itself. It is harmful if I cling to it in favor of God, the greatest good. An attachment to home, for example; especially if in some period in my life I felt like I didn’t belong wherever I was, and then I found a place to call home, I might place a high value on that, and I would have to find ways to detach myself from it.


Fisherman’s Rest Revisited

After I wrote the post Fisherman’s Rest a couple of months ago, I talked to a man who grew up in the countryside relatively near to there. He told me that when he was a kid he would ride his bike the twelve-mile distance from his home to Fisherman’s Rest, to fish, while wearing his waders to boot. That would be hip waders or chest waders, I presume. He’s a strapping figure of a man now and about half my age; I can imagine his stalky adolescent self, peddling along Hwy 63 and the county roads, up and down some steep hills, in the waders, with fishing gear somehow attached. Not something you saw every day fifteen or so years ago and perhaps even less now, as the young become more detached from reality in virtual reality. He was determined, on a mission, and he is on a mission still as a priest of the Church. May the river of grace overflow for him.

The Red Shed, 11 x 14, oil on panel,
Peter Bougie Copyright 2018
That man has left this area, and he might be interested to know of some changes at his old fishing place. Man and nature have both been at work. The decaying building I painted is now gone. It is no surprise. On the day I painted that picture, a backhoe was parked on the opposite side of the building. Demolition was scheduled then and is now completed. Where the building stood a slope is now graded out. Standing near where I painted that picture, and looking through the space which the old ruin once occupied, I did a painting of a shed located a hundred yards or so to the north. It is also a building in decay although not as advanced as the other. The attraction here is the color red, intense in some areas and weathered in others; the bold angled shadow of the projecting eaves, the shadows within the openings of the shed (thick with ghosts that would flee, unsubstantial, should you enter), and the broad sunlit green grass before it, trimmed by the ample shade of a towering cottonwood. Some might find it nostalgic; for me it is more a matter of a combination of color, form, bright sun light and shadowed interiors (the heat of the day, a shaded resting place), and some subdued but evident indications of the near and the far.

We had heavy rains late in August and early in September, and the fallen tree trunk spanning the water in Below the Chute is gone now, too. It was a big log and high above the stream and I am sure it took some real water to move it out of there.

So the summer has passed, and it’s subjects along with it. The season, all blooming, all growth; such things remain as the rings that were added to the girth of each tree and the dry rattle to the end of each uncommon rattlesnake; some new paintings stacked up here in my home, among some from past years that still remain here, and the many remnants elsewhere I will never know about. “For the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Corinthians 7:31) and we enter the dark time of the year.

The Red Shed, detail
Copyright 2018 Peter Bougie


Links:
Professor Peter Kreeft on angels:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on angels:






[i] Ministers of Your Joy: Scriptural Meditations on Priestly Spirituality, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 1989, an imprint of Franciscan Media, 29 W. Liberty St., Cincinnati, OH


Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Month of August

The Month of August, 1994,, oil on canvas, 20 x 48
private collection
Copyright 1994 Peter Bougie



In August, the big bluestem is mature on the prairies; five, six, eight feet tall, the stalks golden brown to reddish brown on the ends, with the blue streaks extending down into the green near the ground. It sways gracefully in the breeze, the flagged seed heads tossed on the ends of the stalks, and the stalks relax back to vertical when the breeze subsides, or recoil in the opposite direction if the breeze blows hard enough; uncountable in their ten thousands per acre. The rosin flowers are blooming, sunny yellow, and some stragglers of coneflower and Queen Anne’s Lace are still loitering, as if in denial of the passage of summer. Goldenrod stands in insular clumps around the edges of meadows; sometimes it dominates where the soil was disturbed. If I am troubled by the world I can take comfort in these things. I can contemplate the fields, watch the grass grow. Let the chatterers chatter.

The Month of August, detail "fade to white".


I painted “The Month of August” in 1994. I made the one-hundred-mile trip from my home to what was then called O. L. Kipp State Park, now Great River Bluffs State Park, in southeastern Minnesota on the bluffs above Hwy 61 between Winona, MN and LaCrosse, WI. I did a lot of work on the painting on site, but it is not a traditional plein air painting. I prepared an underpainting in grisaille, flake white and greenish umber, in order to carefully establish the gradation of values for the hazy condition depicted in the painting. I established the drawing in grisaille on site, and developed the atmospheric recession logically – basically, fade to white - in the studio. Then I applied color over the grisaille using the underpainting as a gauge for mixing color (chroma) values (tones). I established the color notes on site working in the late afternoon and evening. As evening proceeded, the colors in the sky made subtle shifts in hue and color temperature in the reflections on the water. I could swear they shifted from moment to moment, changing in the seconds when I looked away from nature to work on the painting and then looked back again. I recall being fascinated by how the shapes of the islands and sandbars were shaped by the flow of the water, and by the shapes and textures made by air currents moving over the surface of the water or the look of a tree or clump of trees in the middle distance. It was a great delight to look carefully at things and come to know them, in a certain way. When you paint a subject from life, you see it not only in greater detail but much more intensely than you do observing it casually. You become familiar with whole arrangements of shapes and hues, of how lesser arrangements fit into greater arrangements, and experience all this as a sort of communication occurring over time. It is a more thorough and complete, if less urgent and intense, experience than a three-hour plein air painting.  More than that, there is an inner dimension to the experience which is indifferent to the act of painting. It is a kind of contemplation.  

The point of observation for the painting was from the bluff top about 500 feet above the water. It was an overlook cleared alongside a park road. The forests on the bluffs are hardwood- red oak, basswood, shagbark hickory, maple, walnut, chestnut, etc. Black squirrels are a peculiarity of the area on both sides of the river.  On site I was always accompanied by the sounds of vehicle tires slapping over expansion joints in the surface of highway 61, the noise of motors, and train whistles and steel wheels on the rails from freight lines on both side of the river. Now and then there was the deep diesel thrumble of tug boat motors pushing racks of barges up or down stream. A creature of sensation, I would breathe it all in deep. After the painting was finished, it was exhibited in various places and finally sold at an exhibit in Manhattan – to a purchaser from Minnesota.

It was the beauty of the upper Mississippi valley and the driftless area of western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota that was part of the inspiration for my becoming interested in landscape painting. Since the early 1980’s I have lived about 100 miles north of the area that was so inspiring to me in my teens and twenties. I have not traveled there to paint since the 1990’s, although I have done a lot of painting north west of there in the countryside around Lake Pepin, on both sides of the river; and in the St. Croix river valley, and along the many small rivers and trout streams in Wisconsin that feed the St. Croix and the Mississippi.

The Mississippi is 493 miles long from its headwaters at Lake Itasca in north central Minnesota to the Falls of St. Anthony in Minneapolis. Not far below the falls the river receives its first two major tributaries; the Minnesota River at Ft. Snelling, hard by the current International Airport, and then the St. Croix at Prescott, Wisconsin. From Prescott the Mississippi forms the Minnesota/Wisconsin border until Minnesota turns into Iowa about thirty miles south of where I painted this picture. The river is already over 600 miles long here; it has traveled about halfway to the mouth of the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois, and a little more than one quarter of the way to the Gulf of Mexico. At this point its drainage area is entirely in Minnesota and Wisconsin, draining a large percentage of both states. Other major tributaries that have entered it at this stage are the Chippewa and the Black River from the east, and the smaller Cannon, Zumbro and Whitewater rivers from the west. Part of the Black River delta is shown in this painting.

The Month of August, detail,  Black River delta
It is said it takes a drop of water about 90 days to travel the 2,320 miles from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. That is a bit less than 26 miles per day, or slightly more than 1 mile per hour. Some of it will return as vapor in the warm fronts that take a few days to travel north up the valley. They will often collide with cold fronts descending from Canada, making wind and rain, and fall again on the limestone rock faces, backwaters and trout streams of this middle border.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Spanning the Waters


“Who has cupped in his hand the waters of the sea, and marked off the heavens with a span? Who has held in a measure the dust of the earth, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has directed the spirit of the Lord, or has instructed him as his counselor? Whom did he consult to gain knowledge? Who taught him the path of judgment or showed him the way of understanding?”   Isaiah 40: 12-14

Fallen Willow, oil on panel.
Copyright 2009 Peter Bougie
Summer flees. For long stretches of time during this prime season, for which I long and wait throughout the dreary post-Christmas dark, I am made indolent by the heat. There is extra inertia to overcome. Some activities are eliminated. Painting is affected too. I want some shade to stand in. I don’t want to broil and scorch under the full sun for three hours; not to mention it is unwise, (but some might forsake wisdom in favor of desire). If I paint outside I must make up my mind to put up with aggressive deer flies for hours. They are shaped like little swept wing jet fighters, they keep after you, and they like the heat. If I’m out of the sun, or if it’s a little cooler, I must contend with mosquitos, gnats, or no-see-ums, or whatever little things they are that land on my glasses and take a walk. If it’s tall grass I might rub an elbow with the eighth leg of a tick, and if it’s wet I risk making myself bait for chiggers, and subsequently scratch myself bloody in my sleep. Of course, there are sprays and liquid applications and other stratagems to employ against insects; they smell toxic and feel unpleasant on the skin and are by no means certain protection.

Snakes are active and make a sound indistinguishable from a breeze in the tall grass; you wonder what’s up when you realize that day-dreamy, breezy sighing noise is starting and stopping abruptly, and then you go looking for the reason why. Skunks come out in the dusk and are intent on their business. They don’t mind your presence if you mind yours, but don’t surprise one. They know what they’re about and you don’t, and incidentally, their backs are surprisingly luxuriant with fur. I’ve never had an encounter with a bear, and I’m not counting that a loss. Some people will say that black bears aren’t “that” big, by which they mean they aren’t as big as grizzlies. But they have large teeth and claws, so how big do they have to be? If a fifty-pound dog with a bad disposition can chew you up, what might a bear in a bad mood do? Woodchucks will approach you from upwind if you are still, and beavers slap the water in indignation at your trespass. Mink might run across your toes before you realize what has happened. 

Windfall, oil on  panel
Copyright 2003, Peter Bougie
Trout jump right before or right after you look at the spot where they do it, and they startle you like spooks when you comprehend their shape, the very color of the water and faintly outlined, hanging suspended in a pool or a current. Wild turkeys file along in a row, fledglings behind a matron; young adolescents wander abroad. Bluebirds or yellow finches swoop and lunge, indigo buntings flicker in a shadow, and robin nestlings not quite prepared to fly succumb on the ground to cats. Raccoon kits die in pairs on the road. And so on.
Bearing in mind the ends of things, I’ve done a lot of paintings of windfalls over the years, usually in the form of fallen trees along the water courses. They succumb not only to wind, but also to lightning, and sometimes to currents undermining a bank or to a violent flood. They can alter the course and speed of currents where they fall; cause partial damming, pooling and sedimentation, changing the character of a location. When I was a lot younger than I am now, I tended to look at everything in the world as being permanent. Waterways were always what they appeared to be, and I thought that trees were as eternal as the hills. But trees go down quite regularly along the waterways. Their fallen torsos remain until a flood drags them away and deposits them along another bank, or against the abutments of a bridge. Sometimes they sink. A few might remain a long time, if they have planted the shattered ends of a couple of stout limbs deep in the river bottom to brace high above the water, like one I found on the Rush River recently
Below the Chute, oil on panel
Copyright 2018 Peter Bougie
Photo by Nora Koch

I painted Below the Chute in a single session on site. I’m not sure if I consider it finished. My first glimpse of it was from a higher vantage than the painting shows, and it was a dark shape against the sunlit water and foliage behind it. Approaching, my intent was to capture that dark shape against the lighter ones. Arriving closer, I was much taken by the play of color value on the fallen trunk against areas of foliage and water, sunlit or shady, around and behind it. Here is light on the bark-less trunk, following the curve of its surface in an arc, silvered or bronzed on the weathered dead wood and contrasting with the living yellow-green or blue-green of foliage. There, a nickeled bronze, darker, gradating into a half-light, its warmth making a low vibration against a shade of green of just the same value in the water ‘next’ to it. The sunlight played on the whole scene in various ways while I stood and painted. There is a lot of foliage overhead and at times the whole fall was mostly in shadow, and dark against some lighter reflections on the water. I made a partially impulsive decision to paint the fall with considerable light on it when I observed the effect suddenly occurring before me. I say partially impulsive because I took a moment to observe the play of elements as they changed before my eyes and consider one against another, all in a short time. But I can’t stand and ponder while everything keeps changing; I have to decide. This entire program of light and motion, the turning of the earth and its movement around the sun, is never ceasing and always making innumerable iterations at every single moment, even in the most localized considerations. If I miss this wave, maybe I can catch the next one.