On Saturday, I got back home from a wonderful week of solitude, meditation, inspiration, and art at The Lake at Morris Graves Foundation. It truly is a unique residency, as one artist stay at Morris Graves’ studio at a time. Robert and Desiree Yarber, who maintain the land and the Graves’ Estate (Robert was Morris’ assistant for 25 years until he passed away in 2001), made my stay a real adventure.
It’s taken at least a week to slowly get my feet back on the ground from the residency stipulations of no phone, no internet, no photo recording device (camera, video, etc.), no newspapers, no radio; the purpose of the residency is to immerse yourself in nature and be completely disconnected from the outside world.
One would think a millennial would have trouble leaving all of those “luxuries” behind for a week, but I found myself not missing them. I loved hearing the wood ducks on the lake, chattering to one another, without the radio interrupting. They allow CDs to be played, but I decided ahead of time to just enjoy the sounds around me while I was there- I didn’t want to miss out on anything.
I spent my days immersed in my artwork, focusing on watercolors while I was there (for multiple reasons: I didn’t want to bring oil paints and make an oily mess bringing things back home, and I wanted to experiment with watercolors since I don’t do that enough). I also spent a lot of time just thinking; it was an incredible luxury just to have the time and mind-space to really soak into my own thoughts, and write them out for further consideration once I got home. Lots of sketches were made for new oil paint pieces to start working on as well.
Most artists leave to go on residencies to “get away from distractions,” and while it’s great that artists want to come to The Lake to strictly work, I found myself distracted by nature in the best way possible. Why would I want to have my head down working all day, when I had the chance to watch the bald eagle fly across the trees surrounding the lake? If I didn’t look up from my work through the wall of window panels in the studio, I would have missed enjoying the cormorant aggressively hunt for his fish dinner. Coming to The Lake is about immersion and experience directly with the land- smelling the cloud-like azalea bushes that were blooming behind the studio (and were mostly composed of flower-little leaves were to be seen!), and touching the bark of a fallen tree to feel its moist, rough surface. Being there sharpened all of my senses again from being so desensitized by the commotion we all experience in our daily lives.
Earth Print 1, 19.25 x 12.25 in., watercolor on rice paper, 2016
One of the fallen trees had exposed where tree beetles had bore into the wood, carving out paths in the bark. It was like looking at a highway, paths, rivers, topography, the universe- all in one place. Being in nature so pure and unadulterated by man, it sort of makes you have to say, “Why am I even making art? It’s all right here.” Nothing comes close to this kind of beauty. I made a few monoprints to try and capture the markings, but it still doesn’t do justice.
Earth Print 2, 19.25 x 12.25 in., watercolor on rice paper, 2016
It was a treat to see Morris Graves’ paintings in person hanging on the walls; they have an aura about them that you can’t feel in reproduction. It was yet another treat to go through his archives, sifting through images of his work and life over the years. Robert told me he was a great storyteller, and I can believe that just by looking at his works.
Earth Print 3, 18.75 x 12 in., watercolor on rice paper, 2016
Earth Print 4, 18.75 x 12 in., watercolor on rice paper, 2016
I don’t typically journal, but every day I made it a point to write about my experiences candidly, and include some little drawings from life or from memory on what I saw on my daily hikes.
Sketchbooks full of drawings for new paintings- round and oval panels are in my future.
It was a shock to the senses coming back into civilization (and 294 emails sitting in my Inbox). I still feel like the right words I want to say about my experience haven’t come to me yet – to really describe it – but it is a week I won’t forget.