Decaying man-made structures speak to me as tangible representations of abandonment and memory. Even though the particular building and its story are unknown to the viewer, the image is transcendent and can trigger personal reminiscences and loosely related associations. These abandoned human structures solicit a narrative the viewer cannot help but imagine. These narratives are supplied by one’s own experience, generative imagination and memory. In supplying the story, however unconsciously, unfulfilled desires and past longings resurface. I easily personify buildings. Houses are wombs for growth, change, and rites of passage. They seem to be alive, with eyes that see and ears that hear. Lonely buildings stir in me a sense of wistfulness, since someone built the structure for a purpose, for which it is no longer needed. Empty open spaces have obvious connotations of loneliness, abandonment or loss. They are a void, either where something was or could be. The beauty of nature heightens my emotions, and an ambiguous sense of longing overwhelms me. Suddenly I am very small, or very alone. And something outside of me is very beautiful and very great. I am unsure how to feel, other than pining for something that was, or is, or will be. Again, this imagery produces obscure emotions that flood my senses, even as I struggle to decipher where they came from.
This expanding of the soul comes with an awareness of an inborn desire for a true home, the realization of which I have not yet found on this earth. And so this long pursuit, this pilgrimage made by every man, this sweet homesickness calling me somewhere I have not yet found. In traveling, I search the earth, discovering new people, colors, truth, ways of life, myself. When I later paint my photographs, I travel again, both in memory and in imagination. Remembering and yearning are intrinsically linked. In our memories, however clinical we recall them, surface our own longings, and in our future imagining, we can’t help but reflect memories. I intend my paintings to make people feel closer to home, even as they are being taken away on an adventure. I want them to catch a glimpse of a new place; to travel somewhere they've never been. I want to bring people out of their current reality: to feel the light, smell the air, and feel connected, as if they had been there themselves. I want the viewer to imagine and yet to remember. Saint Augustine wrote, “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I want to translate these unread pages on my canvases, inviting viewers to read a visual transliteration of the world’s book.
As soon as a moment has passed, that world exists only in memory and in photographs. We are in fact remembering people and events that no longer exist. They are no longer current reality. These memories that now constitute that previous reality are susceptible to exaggeration, extension, alteration and decay. And memories, fleeting and morphing phenomena that they are, will also inevitably blend with our own longings and fantasies, and then the two are nearly impossible to separate. We sometimes say that every person interprets their reality through their own “lens.” These mingled yearnings, experiences, dreams and memories constitute my unique lens.
Fernweh (German literally translated as far-ache or far-away-longing) expresses the reverse of and yet is a persistent companion to nostalgia (that home-ache or homecoming-pain). Fernweh, like nostalgia, can be both an inner anguish and exhilaration. One does not preclude the other, and this bi-polar experience can overcome us through commonplace objects like photographs, smells, songs or storybooks. We can in fact experience a forward-nostalgia for what we have not yet physically observed, because our search for homecoming itself lands us in memories and constructed realities, which in turn redirect us to our longing for a place not yet known, and most probably, not here in our three-dimensional plane. How to better express this bittersweet synthesis of nostalgia and Fernweh than C.S. Lewis in his essay, “The Weight of Glory:” “In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves now, I feel a certain shyness, I am almost committing an indecency, I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not them, it only came through them, and what came through them was the longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not yet heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
It is as if in considering it, I allow more sunlight to seep into the image, and in one image, I find thousands of nuanced colors. I am intrigued by how light brings out these subtle variations. A relationship forms. I begin to mix colors on my palette, and the color options continue to grow over the course of the painting, as I notice more. This process reminds me of what’s referred to as “call and response” in music: a first phrase is played by one musician or instrument, followed by a second phrase from another source, which is a response to or a commentary on the first. The photograph plays its “call” of color, light and shape, and I respond. It shows me a color, and I respond by imitating this call (sketching forms, recognizing and playing variations of the colors on my canvas). I am not merely repeating the image, but rather adding my own perceived details. I might find more of one color, or be more attracted to one aspect of the image, and seek to highlight it. I might alter the color I see to be darker or lighter or to be an entirely other color as I see fit. While my reply, by nature of being a reply, is initiated by the call, it is not merely an echo, but a meditated response. Another study of the image, and more calls are “heard” to which I respond. This dialogue, rather like a jam session or a dancing couple, continues throughout the painting progress.