Last summer Richie Carter painted a scene of Paris and its rooftops. The painting, when framed up, tricked me every time I looked at it. I wasn't looking at a painting, I was looking in on Paris itself. It felt as though I could stick my head through the wooden frame, take a look around, blow cigarette smoke out into the misty Parisian sky, and wave to a friendly passerby on the streets below. What an incredible aim for making art: to create portals to worlds we can look in on whenever we want! Another painting, which I've long loved, was created by my mentor Loren Entz. Every time I'd walk into his studio and catch glimpse of it, I swore I was looking in on Narnia.
I began to wonder. What is it about these paintings that tricks the mind and momentarily causes me to forget that it’s actually just paint on canvas?
A throw away remark from Josh Elliott comes to mind, "You've got to paint the ground under your feet." As I recall, he said this looking at a painting of his that he wasn't quite satisfied with. He wasn't really telling it to me but more to himself, as if wisdom from a past painting hero of his suddenly revisited him.
With this thought in mind I look through paintings by artists I've long admired to see if it rings true. Sure enough, I feel the ground beneath my feet in many of the paintings of Levitan, Elliott, Lawson, and Compton.
I'm compelled these days by a simple and broad directive: help make the world feel a little less lonely. It seems to me a worthy aim and one that I could spend a long time approaching from different angles.
I can sense that listening intently to a good friend, helping to shoulder a burden, or sharing a vulnerable truth heeds this calling. However, I've found it hard to sense how painting can do such a thing. Helping others feel less alone seems more readily achievable a task for the songwriter. Yet, I must say it is indeed touching to look at Levitan's work, and to feel as if I'm standing right there in his shoes. For a fleeting moment as the sun sets I feel I know this man and his Russian landscape which passed beneath his feet some hundred years ago on a planet ever exploring new frontiers –– revolving in a solar system that's dashing around a galaxy that's hurling headlong through a universe. We may never discover time travel, but Levitan's portal feels pretty close.