Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fire and Art

What is on my mind today….Fire….and art….

Around here the summer season cannot be complete without the good….and the bad….company and forest fires. This year is no exception; we have had wonderful visits from friends and now we have smoke. Last year, Bozeman was basically free of the smoke, but this year, the smoke is worse that I can ever remember and closer to us.  There are fires all around Montana.

Tuesday August 28th a fire started from a lightening strike about 18 miles from our home and studio. Now, that sounds like a long way away, doesn’t it. No, actually a fire can travel miles in a single afternoon if the wind is blowing. Today, Friday, August 31st, the fire is only 8 miles away or less. The beautiful forest right behind our house is now empty of campers. All the trails and campgrounds and canyons are closed, evacuated. The fire has dipped down into Cottonwood canyon west of us and those homes have been evacuated also. It now threatens to extend into the Hyalite Canyon, creek and reservoir. Our canyon, Leverich, would be next.

We first noticed the new fire while driving home from town, I was admiring the billowing clouds in the south, when I suddenly realized that those pretty clouds must have been directly above fire. FIRE! My head went into a tail spin! That fire is really close to our place! Oh no! Flash backs of other times in my life that were dramatically traumatic, threatened to engulf my emotions: the 2009 explosion of Montana Trails gallery in Bozeman resulting in 28 of our large paintings destroyed and the death of our dear friend, Tara Bowman; the 1978 war and bombing in Afghanistan with 200 students and 40 teachers fearing for our lives; Pakistan’s revolution in 1976, again being fearful and scared for my life and the life of my students and friends. These are times that I experienced as major fear factors in my life and these memories tend to come flooding back when I get scared. It is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, my dear artist friend and excellent Counselor, Dorothy Dacar, assured me. Just knowing that, calmed my nerves and organized my thoughts. Start packing.

Fire is beautiful when contained and controlled. Wasn’t it our first light in the dark, our first way of controlling our heat and the first way of cooking our food? Fire is good…. Right? It is the most basic of instincts to love fire and fear it as well. 

 Our Campfire
Watercolor by Susan Blackwood

Well, ironically, (prior to this fire starting in our forest so close to our house), this year I have been teaching workshops on painting the expressive glow of flames from a candle, lantern, or campfire. I have another one scheduled for October 4th and 5th, 2012 in Greeley, Colorado.

 Demo on the flickering flame.

There are many beautiful paintings of glowing light that tug at our hearts. Several artists have powerfully portrayed the controlled burning of the prairies. I have seen wonderful paintings of forest fires that put an ache in my heart. Art to me needs to communicate emotion; flame and smoke really do that.

Many great current artists come to mind. Brent Cotton has captured the fine art of glowing light in many of his paintings. I am reminded of other paintings that I have seen: The beautiful portrait by the fireplace; the young woman with a lit candle; the translucency of our skin as it glows when close to a lantern. Morgan Weistling has painted powerful paintings of people with candles. Artists for years have been looking at flame with awe and art in mind. The knowledge of how to create that glow on paper or canvas can be transferred to any subject from landscapes, cityscapes, people, animals, florals and still lifes.

So there it is, art and fire. Now, I will get back to my packing in preparation for the possibility of evacuation and I may even do some painting today.  Stay tuned.