Still Life with Colander
or 36 Views of Persimmons
written by Marsha Connell for my good friend and collaborator Sally Baker,
for her exhibit of watercolors and ekphrasis* poetry
There was a time—200 years long—
when Japan shut its doors to travelers from the West,
to sailors and missionaries, to diplomats and artists —
Sakoku, closed country.
And Japanese citizens could not travel abroad —
to prevent disruptive influences,
for purity of culture, internal peace.
Now Japan is a very small country, a nation of islands.
Imagine the wanderlust, the cabin fever, living within
such circumscribed boundaries for a lifetime, for ten lifetimes!
Thus, elaborate ritual journeys evolved, with way stations,
pilgrimages and shrines,
measured by small distances and changing views
of sacred Mount Fuji.
And so began, too, the practice
of painting the serial journey. First Hokusai’s
woodcuts, 36 views of Mount Fuji,
then 48 views, then 100, seen, and reseen,
with fresh perspectives and characters.
He inspired Hiroshigi’s 36 views of Mount Fuji,
and 100 Famous Views of Edo.
Ukiyo-e—pleasures of the floating world.
When I see these two characters, in their brilliant orange,
green and blue, their flashy feathers like costumes of kabuki players,
or perhaps priests for a ritual, standing on a classic cobalt,
ultramarine and white textile, under the subtle
presence of stacked orange persimmons
one looming high above like Mount Fuji, peeking over
the lip of a spring green colander, pierced with dark constellations—
I wonder if Sally, ensconced at her studio table, thinks of Hokusai,
and Mount Fuji, when she travels over, under, around, through
her tabletop landscapes, painting her luminous
36, 48, 100 views of persimmons.
(ekphrasis*: the description of a work of visual art)
I return to my roots in upstate New York every summer to paint at a small Adirondack lake. I am enchanted by the exquisite flat-water times of day, early morning as dawn breaks through the mist, and luminous calm evenings—when the sun sets among the clouds in the water, and loon calls echo across the lake—when everything is seen twice: in solid and liquid form. My only conflict then is whether to paint or canoe, as those are the primo inspirational conditions for both activities! I paint from the experience of being in the water, on the water, next to the water, above the water. I am drawn to water and water draws me.
I was invited to demonstrate “plein air” painting in the nearby Saratoga Springs, New York, ArtsFest at its inception five years ago. With my outdoor studio set up on the main street, I—painter of waterways, gardens, fields, mountains, trees—searched for the natural landscape. Looking up, I discovered the sky mirrored in Victorian windows, like a glassy morning lake, and, looking right in front of myself. . . the landscapes of storefronts, with reflections of the passing scene (even myself) in the windows.
This was the catalyst for my painting series “Hats on Broadway”, reflecting Saratoga’s passions, and mine. Constructed like organic/cubist/painterly collages, these oils became a bridge for me between painting and collage, between landscape and still life, between interior and exterior, between dreamspace and literal space.
I paint through the seasons, “en plein air,” surrounded by pools of texture and color, in both the natural and the human-altered landscape. From mountain meadows and lakes to lavender gardens and urban shop windows, resonant themes emerge. I notice how a place affects my interior landscape, and how my painting reflects the spirit of a place.
Watching, listening, hiking, dancing with trees — trusting intuition and gesture — infuses the work with an abstract sensibility. My approach is colorist and painterly — images emerge from the rhythms of brushstrokes. I do not require fidelity to local color; expressive color may feel more true. Glazing and scumbling layers of color builds depth and luminosity, softens edges. This may evoke a place of some mystery, a place of the heart.
This painting was inspired by the splendid “Mother Garden” at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. Its abundant old-fashioned plants and worn Adirondack chairs evoked memories of my grandparents’ farm between the Catskills and the Adirondacks.
A premonition of the first Gulf War in a dream, and my daughter in Jerusalem for her junior year abroad, impelled me to create the Dream Vessels collages. Begun in 1991, my “letters without words” have grown to an over twenty year series. I have made the collages as a healing practice. Sharing them, I hope to heal the world.
A collage often begins with a wisp of a dream image, and a collection of “found images” that dialogue with it. Through both intention and the unconscious, I follow relationships of content, feeling, color, and shape as they transform into an aspect of the dream or an unexpected scenario. Recurring themes include houses with rooms I have never before visited, danger from fire or water or heights, youth and old age, journeys. “Vanitas” symbols—the awareness of death within the sweetness of life—such as skulls, eggs, wings, timepieces, are touchstones, as I set sail on the sea of dreams.