When is the story of a piece of artwork helpful, and when is it best to allow the viewer to create the story? This is a constant tension that I experience when I create and write about my work. Many of my images are inspired by actual places I have visited, or places that inspire me. People often see different things, which argues for the universality and diversity of our human experience, and this is delightful.
But sometimes people really want to know where the inspiration comes from. I recently came upon a short essay I wrote about driving across North Dakota. My linocut, March of the Cumulus, shares this inspiration, from a slightly different vantage point. Here are both:
Praying at High Speed
There is a thin place where this world and another almost touch on Interstate 94 in North Dakota. I have only experienced it from the windows of a minivan, driving at 80 miles per hour. It is either the very beginning or the very end of a day in our journeys to western Montana. In the middle, where your mind says “Stop and stay a while” but your body says “Just keep going – I cannot abide yet another day in the car.”
It is a holy drive of sorts. Windows up – it is only with my eyes that I am able to take in the grandeur of creation. Vast undulating planes of vibrant greens and shocking chartreuse unfold before me like an origami spring let loose. The fields are new wheat, milo, or rapeseed. Over a small ridge, and suddenly the Tournesols – the sunflowers – slowly point the way to the source of all energy.
At 80 miles per hour, I feel slow and meditative. Cruise control on, my feet relaxed, the car steers itself ahead with little input from me. At once a jewel comes into view – a small lake with the dead white carcasses of trees sticking out topped deliciously with black crows. What color blue is this? I am going by so fast that I cannot guess – but it is a hue I carry inside me.
The July sky is cloudless. The sheer vastness and weight of our cerulean atmosphere presses down on everything. We are slicing through a kaleidoscope carpet of colors held fast by this immense sky above as my prayers begin.
A prayer for the farmers and their difficult life. Being a farmer means risking your livelihood against capricious storms and winds and pestilence – against banks and markets and tariffs.
A prayer for the land. Little I see is in fact nature-made. The fields are planted atop soils that used to host prairies.
A prayer for the creatures that used to live in these prairies. Those that roamed along or crawled beneath or soared above. Now it is just the crows that call this place home.
A prayer for those whose footsteps and hoof prints used to make tracks in this land. For the sadness of their loss and the hope that their spirits might connect in new ways with forgiveness.
One hand on the steering wheel – my prayers emanating from this tiny capsule — carried off by the wind.
4 Replies to “Every piece has a story”
Elizabeth: This is beautiful! I’m thinking a book is in the works.
Hi Alyson — perhaps a Blurb book!
These are profound words Elizabeth, and thanks to Alyson’s lessons I got to know about you. I can only speak in the superlative. Environmental issues are at the core of my heart too.
Thanks for your thoughts! I continue to question how art can highlight environmental concerns, yet still be something people want to put on their walls. I’m now thinking that words must accompany the images if we are to wake up the world.