“In the uncertain hour before the morning / Near the ending of interminable night / At the recurrent end of the unending . . .” (TS Eliot, “Little Gidding,” lines 80-82, 1941)
(I promise that this won’t be another poetry lesson, but it’s relevant. See below.)
This week I put a lot of pressure on myself to be successful and create a large piece for my upcoming exhibit. (Since “Dante’s View” sold unexpectedly last week, I felt I needed to replace it with something equally complex.) For my subject, I chose a photo that I took last January in Los Osos, CA, while out on a walk in a local nature preserve. The park consisted of a dense grove of eucalyptus trees giving way to a beach on the Morro Bay estuary. I took a photo of a tangle of trunks and branches, with their thin, purplish bark peeling off in huge curling sheets like the skin of badly sunburned arms. The afternoon was foggy, the light diffuse, so there were few shadows and no interesting plays of light in the dark grove.
I deliberately selected this photo because I’ve found that the simpler the subject, the more flights of fancy I can incorporate in my version. That notion almost backfired on me this time, though. It took me all week to finish this 17”x22” collage, and by Friday I was convinced that once again, I had created doo-doo. I was also certain that I’d fooled myself in thinking I was any kind of an artist.
Saturday morning I tackled it with a trick I learned somewhere at sometime. Instead of trying to use reason to identify the problem areas, I turned both the photo and my collage upside down and focused on one trunk, one branch at a time, looking at each section as a pattern of light and dark, not as a tree trunk or branch. It worked! It took me all day, but I finished something that looks like eucalyptus trees from about 10 feet away, but up close is a tangle of body parts, hair, clothing, and jewelry.
Now what would I name this collage? “Eucalyptus Trees in a Nature Perserve on a Foggy Winter Afternoon” is boring and doesn’t take into consideration the atmosphere I created. So, as I’ve seen Christians who need spiritual insight flip open a Bible and point to a passage to let God guide them to a solution, I flipped open my handy Oxford anthology of modern British literature and began to read. I let my favorite poets speak to me instead of God. Okay, it’s true that this 1977 edition opens automatically to the works by oft-studied writers, and that I have to be careful that the tissue-paper thin pages covered with my annotations in various colored inks don’t go flying around the room when I flip it open, but I actually discovered a poem I’d never before read, and the lines resonated with the mood of my collage. And so, I think “In the Uncertain Hour,” a line from one of TS Eliot’s poems, sounds a whole lot better than “Eucalyptus Trees, blah, blah, blah.”