An Accident, an Artist and a Poster

Several years ago I was driving along the north coast of California. As I rounded a sharp, cliff-lined bend I came upon an accident scene. A girl in her early 20s had been riding her bike and was hit by a semi-truck. The truck was long gone but a gaggle of well-meaning good Samaritans was at the scene. I joined them reluctantly (not wanting to stall my journey and put my own kids at risk as they waited by the roadside). As I walked up and assessed the scene I hoped to see that all was well and that I could quietly leave. But that wasn’t to be, I was needed. When I saw this I told the small group that I was a doctor and remember now the relief this brought to all of them. Imagine their fear, there on the coast with this wounded girl and help a long time coming.

The girl ultimately did well and, is not the point of this story. Instead her accident formed for me the basis of a happy accident of acquaintance.

Every year on Labor Day weekend my family travels that same coast road and in the town we stay in is a yearly art show. The year after the accident I was touring the show, which is held in multiple studios, homes and galleries. As I walked into the seaside home of one painter I was surprised to be greeted by her with a gushing of enthusiastic greetings and thanks. She had been there at the scene of the accident the previous year,  and remembered me. From this serendipitous meeting has come a nice acquaintance based on yearly trips to see her and her art.

This year on the usual day that I tour the show, I was tired and feeling a bit more introverted than usual. I was tempted to walk by her house and out to the beach to sit alone. Instead, I talked myself into heading in and by doing so, reaped the benefits of making the effort. Her art is astoundingly beautiful. Her plein air paintings have evolved to be increasingly and delightfully abstract. They show planes of space defined by thickly laid paint and a powerful use of color. For me they are as if Rothko has come back with a palette knife to paint landscapes. She and I enjoyed a long conversation about art started off by my asking who she is most influenced by. We looked at books of hers and discussed style, color and method.

Our conversation brought to mind a word that has come to mind several times lately: process.  In the sense of it being:

a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result – the process of growth

One of the paintings my friend showed me connects to this sense of appreciating process. It was by Paul Wonner, depicting two men sitting together. There is great feeling in the abstract strokes of color that blurs their faces but, leaves feeling intact. Perfect in a way. And yet, Wonner chose to leave obvious drips of paint across the canvas, even on one man’s face. Obvious imperfections decisively left. Why?

Process used in a psychological sense can mean taking the time to work towards becoming a better version of our selves. To generate this evolution though one needs enough self-reflection to be able to say “Look! This is how I did it – this is how I changed!” In viewing Paul Wonner’s painting of the two men it seems the drips were left as an indication of his process. They are leading us to see the gestures, the spaces, the feeling. He is saying “Look! This is how I did it – see my broad brush strokes, see my drips?” He was perhaps, asking us to look at how his beautiful painting evolved. He may have been asking us to see that the drips on his painting are part of the process that generated the emotional meaning held in its planes.

I saw a poster on a city street this week that said:

“art is not a moment; it is a process”

Indeed. Art like life, is best when it involves a process of evolution and observation.

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