The Maine
An artful dialogue about the wonders of the state.

Heaven At One Painter’s Hand

paintings, photographs, and text by Jessica Ives

Screw Auger Falls

Painting is a matter of getting out to nature and having some joy in registering it. If you are not going to get a thrill, how can you give someone else one?

Charles Hawthorne

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Do you see this photo? I love it, but that doesn’t mean you have to. I took it myself and it is not at all an example of photographic finesse. In it — look closely — is my husband, all thirty-four years of him, neck craned up with an expression of delight as he slips down the watery rockslide at Screw Auger Falls in Grafton Notch State Park. The early August light is dazzling but soft. The mountain water is screaming cold, I can assure you. And the bathing suits of kids bedazzle an otherwise ocher and peter-pan-green scene.

I have a second photo that shows my husband walking back up the falls for another ride. The moment in this photo has become a painting. There he is, slightly off balance in the rushing water. He is playful. He becomes a sequin in the scene just like all the other kids. He’s a big kid.

Screw Auger Falls, located in Western Maine close to the New Hampshire border, is a magical place. I took my turn dunking in the frigid water and bursting back to the surface with squeals. I slipped down the slides with the other kids and, also like the other kids, nearly cracked my tailbone scrambling back along the slick granite. I lost track of time as the forceful rush of water filled my ears and I was immersed in gratitude, joy, and deep care for a place I had only just come to know that day. Of course, I can acknowledge these emotions on conscious terms now but in that moment I was, simply, in that place.

My experience of timeless presence was bookended by wielding my camera on the one end, and on the other, by a jolting moment I shared with my husband. At one point, sun drenched but goose-bumped, we both looked up from the falls and noticed a large, awkward audience of adults sitting along the dry rocks nearest the parking lot…waiting…watching…silent…mostly expressionless. It made me sad to think that all these adults — some surely my peers — no longer felt a visceral tug to the waterfall’s beauty and power. I was reminded of Alexandra Horowitz’s words in her book, On Looking:

Part of normal human development is learning to notice less than we are able to. The world is awash in details of color, form, sound — but to function, we have to ignore some of it. The world still holds these details. Children sense the world at a different granularity, attending to parts of the visual world we gloss over; to sounds we have dismissed as irrelevant. What is indiscernible to us is plain to them.

bigkidslittlekids_ives

Kids jump, fall, dunk, roll, splash, slide, and scream. With their full bodies they inhabit and truly live in places where adults seem content to sit back and observe. Show a kid a waterfall, a mountain, a lake, a culvert, even a puddle, and do what adults do best: watch what happens and what it means to be alive in a place. Curiosity calls. A child comes to know the world through their whole body. Play and exploration trump the eyes, the brain, fear, memory, and anticipation.

I recently listened to a Jewish rabbi who pointed out (with humble irony) a Christian idea that has become pervasive in our culture: we believe that if we wait and suffer in the present we will be rewarded with happiness in the future. This is called pie in the sky theology. Or retirement. Or any diet, for that matter. The rabbi contrasted this characteristically adult expression of faith with a more childlike belief: happiness, like heaven, is at hand.

No matter how close we sit to Screw Auger Falls, suffering on a hot August Day, it’s not going to erode itself into our rocky hearts in an afternoon’s time. We’re better off slipping and sliding like a kids into its misting, dousing, and ultimately drenching presence — because let’s face it: it was a long-ass drive to get here and we might not make it back.

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As a painter of representational subject matter I am very much expected to be an adult artist, waiting and watching, studying from a distance the landscape I wish to paint. I must know how the light at certain times of day can effect a backlit barn. I must remember formulas for mixing a variety of leafy greens. I must be concerned with creating a compelling composition. There are so many ways I can use my adult eye to stay dry, to protect myself from the waterfall of heaven happening right in front of me. And so, in an act of childlike rebellion, one day I decided I would no longer set up my easel and paint en plein air, right in front of my subject.

Currently I work from the memories I have of places I fully inhabited through biking, hiking, swimming, or otherwise playing and exploring. While working in the studio the adult professional in me still scolds, “You can’t paint a thing authentically —the light! the color! — unless you’re standing in front of it.” While precise light and color are part of the truth of a place, the kid in me retorts, “How on earth was I supposed to just stand there and watch when this place compelled my entire body to experience it?” Running through a field to feel the tall grass whip and rip at my thighs will give me vision for a place that looking alone cannot provide. Suffering scrapes when I miss my foothold bouldering granite outcrops will also give me this vision. So will the cold slap of the water’s surface on a late September afternoon, jumping in for the last swim of the season.

The body is intelligent. The body frees the eye from purgatory and, like a child, rushes headlong into heaven and happiness.

downtheshoot_ives

In early September my husband and I parked our car on the snarled shoulder of a country road. We hiked through the woods to a small black ribbon of a river, riffling in the late afternoon light. I hadn’t come prepared — neither had my husband but that didn’t stop him. Stripping down he dug his toes into the mossy bank. He jumped, and as if in slow motion the water’s surface held his body on a pillow before breaking open. There was a quick in-breath of chill and refreshment. He sank. There was quiet sunlight…and then my husband resurfaced a child.

He played and somersaulted in the secret swimming hole of his youth. His body, having once recreated here, was now re-created here. His body remembered and, indeed, was re-membered to this place. If the prophet Isaiah saw “the trees of the field clap their hands,” then my husband felt the arms of the river embrace and welcome him home.

Robert Frost wrote that a poem “begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with.” As I sat on the bank, dry and watching my husband swimming in heaven, I felt homesick — and I felt compassion for the adults at Screw Auger Falls. Oddly enough I also felt hope. Maybe, just maybe, I could make a painting, like a poem, from this experience anyway.

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I started painting when I was fourteen. I set up canvases on my family’s river dock and painted the water I swam in daily. I was in love with the work of Wolf Kahn. I was learning to see and be in the world.

I went to art school far away from my floating studio. In New York City I painted the Maine landscape from memory to soothe my homesickness. I went to a Roni Horn exhibit in Chelsea once and was struck by the incorporation of a certain phrase in her work: “To see a landscape as it is when I am not there.” Could a landscape be more real in its absence, through memory?

After school I returned to Maine and lived on the same river where I grew up. I tried adjusting back to plein air painting but found myself instead sitting inside at the dining room table, setting up my palette and canvas and capturing the river as seen through a window. Gridded panes filtered the frustration I felt trying to stand still in front of the landscape I had missed for eight years and now, more than anything, wanted to move through, jump into, remember, and be re-membered by.

I joined a long distance open-water swim group and some days it seemed I spent more time in or around lakes, rivers, and bays than I did out. I painted when I was too exhausted to keep swimming and when it rained. If people ask, as they sometimes do, how it is I paint water so naturally, the answer can be found in the miles of aquatic memory stored in my body.

In New York City I painted Maine from a visceral feeling of homesickness, from childhood memory, and from a child-like experience of place. Now back in Maine, I was no longer suffering from homesickness but from lack-of-motion sickness. I needed to be under the water, on the mountains, in the trees. My happiness, my health, and my art — the unique expression I alone could bring into the world — depended on it. I put my faith in heavenly places, in the possibility that a landscape could be as real to me in the studio as it was hours or weeks from my actual, full body experience of it. I also bought a waterproof, smash-proof camera.

Even when painting en plein air an artist must look away from their subject to mix color, to touch brush to canvas. In that moment, however brief, memory must be depended on. Are there degrees and durations of visual memory that are more authentic than others? And is visual memory superior to body memory? I wonder.

"Before The Falls," 4 x 12 inch oil on panel by Jessica Ives

In Damariscotta Mills, near where my husband and I live, there is a bridge that separates the lake from the mill pond. It’s great for jumping and from it, all summer long, kids swarm, buzz, perch, and then leap, over and over and over. Jonathan and I go to participate in a heavenly place — in the sensation of flight, the smacking reality of water, the refreshing depths, the desire to get out and do it all over again, the play. Our hearts are happy.

Parents and babysitters sit on the grassy bank and watch. Jonathan and I leave the cacophonous scene eventually; it’s time for our long swim around the far island and back, into depths where most children aren’t allowed to venture. I slip into a freestyle stroke and in my quieting, solitary thoughts I wonder: “Are we just big kids refusing to grow up? Does heaven really require suffering? Do my painter friends think I’m crazy and irreverent? Am I making my work all wrong?” But then I remember the words of the painter and great teacher, Charles Hawthorne:

Don’t try to be an artist all at once, be very much of a student. Be always searching, never settle to do something you’ve done before. Always be looking for the unexpected in nature — you can have no formulas for anything; search constantly. Don’t learn how to do things, keep on inquiring how. You must keep up an attitude of continuous study and so develop yourself. I don’t know a better definition of an artist than one who is eternally curious. Every successful canvas has been painted from the point of view of a student, for a great painter is always a student.

Tuesday 207

painting by Jessica Ives

downtheshoot_ives

I’m working on an essay right now and it ties together thoughts about my current painting practice, quotations by Charles Hawthorn and Barry Lopez, my love of play, and a recent magical visit to Grafton Notch State Park’s Screw Auger Falls. This painting, a memory from that visit, contains all my thoughts expressed in pigment. It is a teaser for the words, which will publish next week. In the meantime, how is the geographic term waterfall defined in Barry Lopez’s Home Ground, a dictionary for the American landscape?

At certain points in the course of many rivers, water descends vertically; these waterfalls may come where the river leaves a plateau, where it crosses bands of resistant rock, or where it encounters a fault scarp. On rivers, waterfalls are often wider than they are tall; in mountain streams, they tend to be higher than they are wide. In almost every case the sound and sight of glassy water turning into froth and fury is an irresistible lure to humans. Niagara Falls, the continent’s highest-volume cataract, was one of the first headquarters of the sublime for American painters, writers, and other travelers. Waterfalls are in constant motion in more ways than one — they migrate slowly upstream as the lip erodes and the wall is undercut in the plunge pool at the base.

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Every Tuesday The Maine will post a new painting by Jessica Ives. These small works, all 4 x 4 inches on cradled birchwood panels, will be concurrently listed for auction on dailypaintworks.com, a fantastic platform designed by artists, for artists. View the auction for this painting here, or simply click on the image above.

Tuesday 207 paintings are exclusive to The Maine. They depict the land, the light and the people that make this state a state of wonder. Visit the growing gallery of Tuesday 207 paintings here.

Jessica is the editor of The Maine and writes occasionally as The Outsider.

Tourists

text and photograph by Jonathan Ives

Tourists

Leaving the red nun off to my starboard, I think of the old maritime adage red right return as I pull back on the two throttles and slowly bring the boat into the harbor. The wind direction and the tide flowing out has all the lobster boats and sailboats pulling on their mooring lines. I smile as I hear a passenger say to her husband, “Isn’t it nice they park all the boats in the same direction.”

This summer I worked as a captain on the Hardy Boat, a sixty foot passenger ferry that runs out of New Harbor. Working on the ocean keeps you on your toes, dealing with the different sea conditions that mother nature sends your way. Some days it’s flat calm and you’re able to see seals, porpoise, or minke whales on the ten mile trip out to Monhegan Island. Other times the fog is so thick you can’t see the water around the boat. What I love most is interacting with the different passengers that come out every day.

The boat can cary up to 113 passengers on its two decks and often in July and August every seat is sold out. Some people who haven’t spent time on the water ask funny questions like, “How many sunset cruises do you do a day?” I always answer with the same respect I would want someone to show me, but I laugh nonetheless. Most tourist who come out on the boat think all the different lobster pot buoys are actually aids to navigation on the water. I explain that each lobsterman has their own color scheme which makes it easier for them to see their buoys off in the distance. Some folks think the buoy only comes to the surface of the water when the trap is full of lobsters, which would be nice for lobstermen, who on average only keep about two pounds per trap.

I suppose I would ask a farmer in Kansas all kinds of questions he would laugh about when it came to corn because it’s something I’m unfamiliar with. Still, it made me smile when a woman last week saw that it was low tide in the harbor and said to her husband, “Wow, I didn’t know that Maine was having such a bad drought this summer!”

Riggs

painting by Lily Hamill

Riggs, 10x10, acrylic on wood panel

Riggs, 10″ x 10″, acrylic on wood panel

Besides running one of Midcoast Maine’s epicenters of fitness, Lily Hamill paints dog portraits by commission. She’s “ruff” and tough.

Black Bean Harvest

photograph by Jamie Bloomquist

Black bean harvest

Tuesday 207

painting by Jessica Ives

bigkidslittlekids_ives

I’m working on an essay right now and it ties together thoughts about my current painting practice, quotations by Charles Hawthorn and Barry Lopez, my love of play, and a recent magical visit to Grafton Notch State Park’s Screw Auger Falls. This painting, a memory from that visit, contains all my thoughts expressed in pigment. It is a teaser for the words, which will publish next week. In the meantime, what exactly is a notch? In Home Ground, a dictionary for the American landscape compiled by Barry Lopez, the geographic term is defined:

A narrow passage between two elevations is called a notch. Also a depression or dent, an opening or defile, a cut in the surface of anything. In landscape, especially, a mountain pass. This is the location in a mountain range where a geological formation is lower than the surrounding peaks, thus allowing passage. Notch can simply indicate an opening through rough terrain. 

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Every Tuesday The Maine will post a new painting by Jessica Ives. These small works, all 4 x 4 inches on cradled birchwood panels, will be concurrently listed for auction on dailypaintworks.com, a fantastic platform designed by artists, for artists. View the auction for this painting here, or simply click on the image above.

Tuesday 207 paintings are exclusive to The Maine. They depict the land, the light and the people that make this state a state of wonder. Visit the growing gallery of Tuesday 207 paintings here.

Jessica is the editor of The Maine and writes occasionally as The Outsider.

Fields Going To Seed, Schooners Wrapped In Plastic

haiku by Kristen Lindquist
photograph by Jamie Bloomquist

A day of sparrows
in fields going to seed
leaves red and falling

©Jamie Bloomquist

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Fall leaves prayer flags.
On the front porch Buddha
contemplates a pumpkin.

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Walking through Camden’s Harbor Park and Amphitheatre this afternoon, the signs of coming cold were gathering with the fallen leaves.

Frost warning–
schooners wrapped in plastic,
flocks of south-bound sparrows.

Mack The Knife

photo, text, and coffee by Dan Dishner

Mack The Knife

Good Morning. It’s chilly. Good day for the wood stove and Mack the Knife. Be safe out there, it’s Monday. – Dan

This is a blend dark roast beans from three countries and medium roast beans from three countries. It has a sharp bite at the front of the cup, fruity undertones and a strong dark chocolate finish. Macky’s back in town.