Shorelines, pond and river edges; beaches, sandbars, rock
cliffs: these are liminal places that invite reflection and contemplation of
stillness, power, chaos, change.
This summer has been full of family and close friends for
me: full of reunions, celebrations, intimate conversations. This has stirred up
old memories and new possibilities, and lately I have the sense that I have
been painting from deep in my heart.
In body, mind, memory, and soul, I go to the waters’s edge,
and bring back what I find there.
Here in Vermont, the journey through the month of May into early June brings new foliage to the softwoods and grasses, in layers and layers of variegated greens-- almost too many to be believed. As a painter I find myself obsessed, if only for three weeks. Here are a few recent paintings, made before the woodland colors darken and blend into those of summer.
Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor and graphite on paper, May-June 2016.
In the spirit of the vintage country and western music I love so deeply, I’ve put together a single -- a digital 45--featuring two new original songs. One is a ballad of the wide open spaces. The other is a Bakersfield-style honky tonk shuffle. Both were conceived and recorded with old-school sounds in my mind’s ear-- sounds, already old then, that I remember coming across the 1970s AM radio airwaves late at night. And yes, lots of steel guitar.
I love it when the world tells you just what book you need to read next. Two weeks back, after a day of lakeside watercolor painting in April sun, I settled happily into my seat on the bus home from Burlington. The bus got crowded at the next stop, and I moved my pack to make room for a well-muscled, sun-burned guy of about thirty. He wore faded jeans and a gray tank shirt, had pierced lips and nose, and carried a large duffle bag.( I know, you are maybe thinking Queequeg here, but that’s not where I’m going with this.)
We exchanged quick hellos. I went back to writing in my journal. Before much time had passed, I heard the pop and hiss of a can opening, and then got a waft of modern, hoppy micro-brew beer. When I happened to glance his way a bit later, I saw that he was reading an old book in what looked like a hand-tooled leather cover embossed with gilt letters in an old west -style font.
I couldn’t help but ask him about it, and he seemed glad to show me: A TEXAS COWBOY,OR FIFTEEN YEARS ON THE HURRICANE DECK OF A SPANISH PONY, By Charlie Siringo.
I knew I had come across that name, and recently at that, but I couldn't quite place it. The young guy and I had a short conversation-- he was friendly but taciturn- on subjects ranging from country music to racist language in old books, and then on to dairy farming ( “I’ll tell you,” he said, “It”s not bad work, but I think the state of Vermont should maybe not romanticize it quite so much. Puts a lot of bad stuff in the lake..”)
When the passengers thinned out, he moved to a free seat. I went back to my journaling. I wrote the name “Siringo” in a margin.
Later that evening at home, I picked up a book I had just finished reading, “Ranger Doug” Green’s SINGING IN THE SADDLE, the definitive study of singing cowboys. I was pretty sure that’s where I’d recently come across the name of Charles Siringo I checked the index. Yep. I found the pages referenced and got the jist: Siringo had been a cowboy, a Pinkerton detective, and a New Mexico Ranger. His 1885 autobiography was likely the first book to mention a cowboy singing in the saddle…
I jumped onto my laptop and placed an Inter-Library Loan request.
I would have read Siringo eventually, I’m pretty sure. But a beer-drinking stranger on a bus made sure that I got around to it sooner than later.
Last spring I went for a long trail run up into the trails around what once must have been a small-- perhaps family operated-- quarry. I was inspired by the first real green of spring, the sense of opening, the hazy mystery of distant hills and mountains seen through trees. I took quite a few photos along the way, and as I ran home words and sentences began to form. Over the next few weeks I sculpted those words into a poem. Over the following winter I made the accompanying music, with lap steel, laptop, and kalimba, keeping in mind the idea of an ancient journey that leads into timelessness.
Here are those elements combined, in the form of a short video:
Dawn, Eastern Uplands- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
watercolor on paper, 2016
It may have been the winter that never was here in Vermont, but I suspect there will be a bit more winter mixed with the spring that arrives this week. With most of my work time devoted to the third draft of a book right now, I'm taking a moment, on this quiet Sunday morning, to share a look back and a look ahead.
Letting winter go, I share this short video combining most of this year's winter watercolors with new music for lap steel and laptop: