My husband and I visited one of our daughters many years ago when she was working as a young physician on a Navajo Indian reservation. At the time I was not used to painting in plein air, but I carried oil pastels with me because I thought they’d be easier for me to use in an outdoor situation. Recently, I discovered two of the pieces that I’d done at the time, and was astonished at how they captured the colors of the southwest and abstracted the landscape in ways that I am trying to do today. It made me think that if we are seeking a direction we ought to look back from time to time at earlier work for the seeds of what we want to achieve in the future. As I frame these two paintings for my daughter for Christmas, I look at them with the same detachment as I do when viewing the work of another artist and attempting to learn his or her secrets. I clearly remember working on the first one called “Canyon Lands,” but the creation process of the other one, “On the Road to Red Valley” is less clear. How I would love to be able to plumb it, because the seed of what I can do in future was deeply planted there.
Sometimes what we can learn from our younger selves is well hidden, an ongoing subconscious process that we may or may not recognize. The mistakes of earlier times can help as well. They show us how far we’ve come, how much we have survived, and how human we are. But every once in a while, we look at a particular work and are hit with such stark awareness of something important going on, that we want to go back to that time or place, take the clay we found there, and fuse it with all the stuff of years that has brought our process to where it is today.