Travel is an important part of my painting life, but not always in the ways expected.
What connects meeting Robert Smithson in New Mexico two weeks before he died, Tony Caro in his London studio, and Henry Moore at Perry Green, or having keys to Monet’s gardens, or painting on an archipelago in Sweden?
For me, the connection is meeting artists in the environment in which they work. I get a sense of their connection to the place, and its history. As well as, learning what other artists who surrounded them. Ultimately ,I connect all that to who I am as an artist, both in the moment and as these experiences work on me over time.
My Path to Monet and Giverny
There are ten years between when I picked up a book of black and white photos of Monet’s gardens in a bookstore in London and when I spent five months as an artist in residence at his gardens in Giverny.
When I found the book, the gardens hadn’t even been restored yet, nor were they open to the public. But that book drove me to see Monet’s Waterlilies at the L’Orangerie in Paris, where they are mounted on curved walls in two oval galleries.
It is hard to imagine now, but until the 1970s the late work of Monet, which consisted almost entirely of the waterlilies, were not generally appreciated.
It wasn’t until a bright light was shown on the work of the Abstract Expressionists: Pollock, de Kooning, Kline and Rothko, that these paintings by Monet gained new significance. Monet’s broad and expressive brush-work, which seemed to carry more feeling than content, was seen as prescient of the work of the Abstract Expressionists. It was suddenly relevant again.
Experiencing Monet’s gardens as he had.
Spending five months with unfettered access to his gardens and surroundings allowed me to see for myself what, exactly, Monet was extracting from his gardens and what he was making up.
As it turns out, he made up precious little. To experience the garden in real time, made it possible for me to see what he was up against — what the weather conditions were; how the light changed day to day and hour to hour. It was a great privilege to have this time to understand more intimately what he painted and the challenges he faced.
What surprised me, is how precise the information is in his paintings, even with the ones most loosely painted.
Being in Giverny completely changed my own work.
Before Giverny, I made paintings based on images from Giotto, Ingres and Matisse. After Giverny, I started to paint representationally and, not surprisingly, I searched for ways to imbue my work with light. What may be less obvious about the effects of that experience on me, is that it took me more than ten years to reconcile my abstract/conceptual longings with painting representationally.
Leslie Parke, “October Light”, oil on canvas.
My point is that through sharing Monet’s space over a long period of time, I not only gained insight into Monet, but I was moved and influenced in ways I never anticipated.