Translating Experience into Artwork
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 www.accuweather.com
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
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
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
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;
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.