Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



August 2009

"…art is not nature, but is nature transformed by entering into new relationships where it evokes a new emotional response."


John Dewey, Art as Experience, Perigee Books, page 79.


Translating Experience into Artwork

Dear Reader,

This year's birthday present from my husband John Gaumond is not going to be a surprise. Ever the attentive listener, he heard me say, "Before I die, I want to see the Northern Lights." Statements such as this resulted in our first trans-Atlantic trip in the mid-eighties. I had said, "Before I die, I want to see Stonehenge." And there we were, walking around in circles, marveling, admiring and intrigued by the history, beauty and physics involved in its making.

The Northern Lights are sometimes visible in the lower latitudes. During the 60's, I lived in a cottage on a farm in Concord, Massachusetts. Having moved there from a city, I was immediately awestruck by the night sky and the billion stars available when they are not upstaged by city lights. One winter night, I came home to sheets of white curtains swaying across the sky. Who has not seen photographs showing colors of the Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis? That experience spawned my ambition to see those lights in green, blue, red, or yellow. I would need to travel to Iceland, Greenland, Canada, or Lapland between November and February someday to get my wish.

One of the best parts of any trip is the research involved. John and I will be going to Reykjavik, Iceland with a group, and some experiences will be scheduled. We will be on our own for the rest of the time. As of this moment, I want to go out every night between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., the most favorable time to see the Northern Lights. Speaking of favorable, we will also need a cloud-free week, as well as a time without the full moon. Both are researchable through and Google, for the phases of the moon.

When we talk about our Icelandic plan, some people ask, "What causes the Auroras?" Books and the Internet are places to learn about how their intensity and frequency correspond to solar explosions, or sun spots. The north and south poles have magnetic fields that attract the particles sent into space from these explosions. "At an altitude of between 60 and 400 miles, the particles strike the gases in the ionosphere, causing them to glow and thus form the aurora." A visit to will get you started on the subject. John and I hope to be lucky enough to see a fraction of the colorful displays shown on the Internet.

I am also looking forward to hearing the Aurora Borealis. Scientists have attempted to record the sounds that some claim to hear, but with no success. I will report my findings in December's on-line journal.

Friends and acquaintances know that John will bring his camera to see if he can capture the Northern Lights. They have seen evidence of his art and skill in exhibitions and in our home.

People wonder how this experience will affect my poetry and painting. It is possible that poems spring from my handwritten journal will include impressions, observations or narratives about Reykjavik. I already love saying the word and, anticipating the trip, used it in the lines of a poem I wrote this summer: /I want to see the Northern Lights before I die./ Not so much to see Iceland, but to say Reykjavik many times./ I used to feel that way about Bangor.

Will images from Iceland be reflected in my painting? Because the question has come up more than once, I tried to think back to other trips and measure their impact on my work. I am a studio, not a landscape painter. Even though there are references to nature throughout my work, the shapes emerge from places as far away as Turkey or as nearby as my back yard. They appear in the painting from both memory and imagination, the latter being responsible for images in a painting before I actually see them in nature. For example, I painted a sky with striped clouds. I was startled to see them two years later in a pasture in the French countryside.

But I need to give special credit to Spain; the most fruitful trip so far was to Barcelona. More specifically, the organic, abstract mosaic designs of architect Antoni Gaudí and his collaborator, ceramicist Josef Maria Jujol have made a major impression on me and my work (Judy's Journal - 2008 June, August; 2009 May).

Architecture, museums, music and books will help me to learn how Icelandic artists have interpreted their natural and political landscape. John Dewey said in the opening quotation that "art is not nature, but is nature transformed by entering into new relationships where it evokes a new emotional response." What will Iceland hold for me? The decades-old longing to see the Northern Lights, for starters. Actually, that's enough.

Inspiration is neither a predictable nor practical deity. She arrives when you least expect and disappears when you think she should be there. Who knows? While I am straining to absorb the sounds of the Aurora Borealis, I might hear Inspiration laughing. And I will laugh with her.