28 April 2013
A one-week artists’ C-Scape Grant Award to reside in a shack without electricity or running water, bound by the Atlantic ocean in the Dunes of Provincetown, MA, was offered to me the last week of April 2013. Artists who are not awarded a grant can reserve a week for $500. if accepted into the program. I have always wanted to paint space, looking out as far as the eye could see at the ocean. Now I would leave my blossomed cherry and magnolia trees and rows of first plantings peeked through soil. On the highway east, clouds grabbed the sunrise, simulating peonies hanging in the sky. I met the dune buggy driver in a parking lot in Provincetown. We skidded through the sand like a whip. Chip told me a few things about the shack and left me there. I carried jugs of water from the water pump a hill below, and brought in kindling and logs to get the wood stove started. I ran up the dune cliffs before it would get dark, to see the vast blue-green ocean. Dunes rose up through the shack windows like ocean waves. Next morning, my fingers did not open. It was 30 degrees, so I had to move fast, stoking the wood stove, carrying water jugs, sweeping floors of sand. To keep connection with family, I needed to charge my cell phone in Provincetown. I remember thinking, “I hope I don’t get lost in the dunes.” I set out retracing the inflated tire marks in the sand from the dune buggy that brought me there. I thought, ‘this is a longer walk than what I had imagined.’ What a big surprise that suddenly beach showed up, which I later found was so remote it did not even have a name. Being high noon, I had no directional axis. The dunes were as high as little mountains. I had ½ bottle of water left. Walking in the sand was like walking through snow drifts into which my feet sank 8″. I stem chrystied up and then slid way far down, but, ‘to where?” All that showed up was huge animal paw prints in the sand. The dunes swallowed me up to the very point I heard my voice calling, “Help!’ Four + ½ hours later, the sun was towards the west, which gave me reference. I finally found my footprints and retraced them!!! At the very point I was so lost, terribly frightened and frustrated, I saw the P’Town monument which I kept trying to keep in sight as I went steeply down a dune and climbed back up, a pattern I followed until I heard cars and saw the highway. I struggled through thick bush to avoid a small river. I did not know how long the river traversed, but I climbed back up yet another dune, only to find that the river no longer blocked me from the highway. Last I saw the painters Bob Henry and his wife Selena Treiff was when my painting mentor Jim Gahagan sent me to their loft in NYC in the 70’s, but they remembered me, waiting for me with food, knowing I was lost in the dunes. I returned to the ocean to search for composition after morning chores, with no plan to go to Town again that next day. I attached paper to 2 drawing boards, wheeling my art materials up the cliff on a dolly meant for sand. I saw whales, large black shapes big like elephants gracefully leaping high up out of the water, arcing back down into it’s depths. I saw curious seals that stared at me. I worked until my welded fingers were too cold to hold the crayons which kept dropping into the sand. The wind blew the sand onto the right side of my face which had scratches from it. 6 hours went by fast, the drawings never done, but I had to give up the day.
Not very ‘parisianne appearing,’ I wore a down jacket for the next day’s drawing up on the same cliff, fingerless gloves and a visor. I mixed the colors together to obtain a very specific coastal light, the color finding the shapes. By my third day, I entirely lost track of days!!! Admittedly, I got lost in the dunes again, headed to Town to recharge cell batteries, buy a bottle of pinot noir, a tomato, cheese and bread. What should have taken me one + ½ hrs. to return to my shack turned out to be many more hours. I again got disoriented and lost my sightlines as I descended deep into the crevices of the dunes; when I climbed back up in sand, my sightlines were gone, walking too far to the east. I had to walk another hour west along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Not only did I not mind, I enjoyed the search, the same way I find my way through a painting. A close friend said, “Good. You are doing just what you are supposed to be doing: getting lost in the Dunes.” A local artist told me that people get lost all the time, many having to sleep outside in the night in the cold because they can’t find their way out. I could probably get a job as a tour guide in the Dunes by now. Immersed in a new rhythm, I spent 6-7 hours each day drawing the ocean from my most perfect perch. Upon return to my shack, there visiting me was a strawberry-blond with dark markings ‘red’ fox; we stopped and looked at each other for a long time, until one of us moved forward, and it was I, and he ran away. I had never seen a fox so close up; the only thing in my mind was how gorgeous he was. (Did I miss the ‘animal fear gene)?’ I was later told he was the result of a coyote and a wolf mating, triple the size of a coyote, not noctural, and eats anything. I lived by sunrise and sunset, unaware what day it was. It was a good day to not get lost in the dunes and to have a new ocean drawing. Each night before going to sleep, I lay flat under the mysterious sky full of brilliant stars, listening to ocean waves. The combination has put me in a good mood for a lifetime. On my last full day, I climbed the cliff to set up my easel again, but the fierce cold wind blew sand in my eyes. Dejected, I kept returning, since winds shift quickly and might work in my favor. One last time, I carried my easel up to the cliff overlooking the ocean, which had a more beautiful light than any time I had seen it, (because there were those thick physical clouds that allow streaks of sunlight to fall through). The wind was just too strong; it would have made a kite of me, my easel and drawing board right over the cliff, (more amusement for the seals). I gave up again, meeting with Kathy, a local who had attended a panel discussion of which I was a part, at the Provincetown Art Assc. Museum years before about Jim Gahagan’s then exhibition, who walked me back to my shack. Even she admitted the dunes shift every time there is a storm, cranberry bogs were filled with water, complicating the dune route more. Even she got lost, which was very good for my pride. I have been painting the ocean back in my Amherst studio since. I make the Holyoke Range Mountains look like ocean waves caught by low hanging, fast moving cloud shadows and light on them, undulating them. The mountains rise up like big furry animals you can reach out and pet, then they lay back down again in the changing light and seasons.