An Illuminating, Unforgettable Moment at the Tate Gallery

26 May 2011

Lens:

The center of a purple clematis from my front garden, 2011

Pens:

My entire life has been encircled by artists and their works. I grew up with a talented mother (1919-2005) who was immersed in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s and 60s. Not only did she meet and mix with renowned artists of that world, but I was privy to them too. Even though she was part of a revolutionary period of American art history, her involvement was rather normal in my everyday life. We spent three summers in Provincetown where she studied with the world renowned Hans Hofmann (1880-1966). Those months were simply added to the already cultural life we lived in Baltimore, which had become one of the important cities on the East Coast to turn artists into the marketplace.

So it was no surprise when my mother asked my daughter and I to join her on a trip to England, which has legendary stars of the art world (galleries and museums as well as churches filled with the art of centuries past and present. If you would like to read an essay about that trip, go to the headings under my blog’s masthead and click onto Writings, 1970s-2010, scroll down until you come to 30 June 1985.). We spent most of that trip in London where I had an emotional epiphany.

Small moments of unexpected discovery can release intermittent sparkling memories. But the more pronounced ones can be sustained throughout a lifetime up front in the conscious mind. During that trip to London we decided that visiting museums would be on our “must” list. While all the city’s art-related venues are memorable, our visit to the Tate Gallery was historic for me. The experience remains etched as clearly as if it happened yesterday.

As we cruised through various exhibitions in the Tate Gallery, we entered a room lined in the works of the British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). I leaned forward and was stunned. With an artist as a parent, I had spent many days in front of great and non-so-great art. I was comfortable with rooms full of works I had never seen. But this moment was a watershed: it rocked my body and my mind. My sensibilities welled and so did tears. The spectrum of feelings was overwhelming. There was a long moment staring at his dramatic and expansive landscapes. I knew that no other artist’s work had touched and wooed me in this way. His use of color and light dazzled and saturated my being, and signified how powerful art can be in the human experience. The works that especially brought on this personal epiphany were his series of Venice paintings. They are ethereal and mysteriously executed, and very much on the  edge of abstraction.

The act of art being shared is a point at which lives can be changed and rearranged. And this experience was one of those magical journeys where a stunningly emotional response was reflected in my already layers of submersion in the art world. Years later all these moments rolled out an art devotee and educator.

Because I have inhaled and exhaled art for all the decades of my life, it seems to be part of my DNA. But, in fact, as James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) said in 1885, “Art happens…” We all have the capacity to push our creative side. I just happened to have a view into the lives of accomplished and ground-breaking artists, and it furnished an ever-lasting glow over my life.

Everyday I see my mother’s legacy: her art work created from the 1950-early 1970s. The walls of my home are covered with them. I am dazzled by her body of work, but I also realize that what poured out of her onto canvas and paper was from deep inside her: the angst of her life filled the abstractions that she created. The colors, forms, lines and shapes came from her emotional center. You can feel and see this blaze of life that she incorporated into each space, using various techniques applied by the expressionists: drips, splatters, staining, brushing, glazing…

While I savor the abstract expressionists and modern art, I am drawn to the work of artists whose creativity is inextricably connected to nature; they combine the best of the inner self with their interpretation of the natural world. Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954) are my favorites. I’ve made trips to see where each has worked and left lasting legacies: Matisse in Vence, France, and Monet in Giverney, France (If you would like to read one of my essays that comments on the subject of art and nature, go to the headings under my blog’s masthead and click onto Writings, 1970s-2010, and read the first entry: Art and Nature: An Inspirational Duo.).

Certainly, one of the gifts from the masters is the inspiration that they provide. They bestow us with a wealth of possibility: for example, that the human animal can create along side the most artistic of all artists Mother Nature.

With great fortune the creative process is a human characteristic, and we are never absolutely clear where that force emanates. For me sparks fly from a sundry of places, but deep within it’s also a combination of nature and nurture–literally.

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3 Responses to An Illuminating, Unforgettable Moment at the Tate Gallery

  1. I am well aware of the impact that some paintings can have on the way we see things. I am now eager to learn more about Turner so I can see what you saw!

  2. This summer we’ll share our enthusiasm for Turner’s genius. Talk to you soon.

  3. rowena says:

    Thanks,Sally. Really enjoyed your thoughts. I feel the same way about Turner. I have a few of his prints on my walls which remind me on a daily basis what joy there is in painting. Hope your well. Summer’s coming. Let’s be sure to get together.

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