I spent ten days back on Kauai at the end of March, painting, photographing, and researching an ongoing art project with my friend Helen Turner. The weather was golden – blue skies, warm breezes, tropical and perfect. We roamed from one end of the island to the other with our cameras and paint boxes.
Left: Path to Donkey Beach, plein air watercolor, ©2017. Right: Mt. Haupu from Poipu, plein air watercolor, ©2017.
There is no time of year when nature goes dormant in Hawaii, and no subsequent explosion of growth and flowering. Things grow, and decay – constantly, incrementally. It is difficult to mark the time, beyond the hours of the day. Days flow into weeks, months, years.
After three years living in Oregon, the four seasons still feel like a racetrack. A week of snow, a week of cherry blossoms ended by a week of rain. A few weeks of tulips and rhododendrons followed by a month of baking summer heat, fleeting autumn gold and red, and the return to mud season. Back around again.
I have been thinking about impermanence and value in my art. How does the value of a thing change if it cannot last? If you expect to have it forever? What are the motivations to create a temporary piece, vs. something meant to endure? A temporary experience highlights the passing of time, constant evolution and flux. All we have is now. An object can be experienced differently at every moment of our lives. The object may be “the same,” but I am different than yesterday and today is different than yesterday.
Plein air painting is a simultaneous study of the temporary and the permanent. Over the course of an hour, the light changes constantly on a landscape, things move, colors shift. A painting is an act of permanence. What moment do I choose to capture in the colors of the sky, the movement of the clouds, the progression of a wave?
Permanence signifies stability in my mind, and creating an artwork that is meant to be permanent is a sign of that reliability and stability. But permanence and stability are not really the same. Nature exists in a constant state of impermanence, a stable cycle of change.
I painted Hanapepe Pastures at the end of the day, facing east towards the central mountains of Kauai. Behind me, the sky exploded into sunset, breaking through low clouds and casting a brilliant glow onto the silhouette of Niihau island. I raced to finish my painting before the light was gone. We watched the sun sink below the horizon as we ran towards the beach, cameras in hand. We missed photographing the sunset by literal seconds.
I was disappointed, of course, but I surprised myself by thinking, there will be another sunset here, as beautiful as this one was. And Helen was nice enough not to make me walk all the way home!