Island Artists

Screech Owl

My physical setting is essential to my painting. This place is my essence. I was born here. As far as I know, my most distant ancestors lived here. This place has mountains, rivers, hills, streams and oceans. Birds sing into the air and fish flash in the water. This place grew me so I could see her and tell her how beautiful she had become. When young she needed no one to tell her. She cavorted with the sun and created her forms. But as she grows older she needs affirmation of her splendor. I am one in a line of admirers that she made to paint for her. We do not hold up a mirror so she can admire her forms; rather we gaze and sense her complex and vast creations in awe, and from that inspiration we fashion simple forms with primitive tools for her pleasure and delight.

Joe Miller, from: The Artist as Native: Reinventing Regionalism, Pomegranate Artbooks, CA 1993

The Lost Sister

I was born in Georgia; my family was born there; my childhood was there. There for the first time I breathed air, my first weather, the bone-crushing familiarity of humidity and heat and night sounds. It was my native tongue.

I have lived on this Island in Washington fifteen years. Other places still cut me with longing/memory/home/. Yet it is this place that has claimed me: when I am here, I am me. I learned it like a second language, with idiosyncratic pronunciations and mixed-up words.

I paint indoors, at home, in my room, in the right half of the room. The window is here, the door is there, I am here.... Our house is small and wooden, in a clearing. When it rains, the sound is always on the roof. In summer, dragonflies deepen the air. At night, the outside darkness seeps through the windows and pools up - the walls slow down but do not stop what is out from coming in.

I particularly respond to fall and winter. The air infiltrated with water: fog, cool humidity, rain, snow. Boundaries become permeable. Sodden and brittle, red and grey. The huge sound of tiny tree frogs. The ground sloshing with water, the garden drowned.

I most directly physically interact with my place by gardening. My garden is humble and ignorant. I'm still touched when a perennial reappears, as though it likes me! But largely I do not nurture plants: I garden by motion and elimination. I hack and weed and rip out and clip and move rocks, shove dirt, dig, edit. I squat close to the dirt. I forget to look at the plants - I just want to be close to the dirt. Perhaps I am then open to the collective unconscious of the plants, the insects, birds, earth. I can absorb it, almost like something rising up from the ground.

My painting is fed in this indirect way - through absorption, immersion, the slow drip of familiarity. Scenery is for the eyes, and I do not exactly paint with my eyes, but rather on the border of sight and touch, the border of...At one point I decided that I did not like to scrutinize nature, looking for a pleasing aspect, a dramatic juxtaposition, a freeze frame. I felt I was using her; it was an uneasy relationship.

Now I assume that I absorb, that I can not help absorbing, that my place inhabits me as much as I inhabit it. I am drenched with deeply percolating water. I paint from within, and what I find within is where I am native.

Dana Roberts, from: The Artist as Native: Reinventing Regionalism, Pomegranate Artbooks, CA 1993

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