Sunday, June 9, 2013

I Think about Them Sitting Out There

The June 6, 2013 issue of The New York Times features a fascinating story about painter Ellen Altfest. Known for her careful attention to detail in figurative work, she has, over the last year, painted outdoors. She doesn't just go outdoors during the day, but she has been living outdoors, more and more, painting a single fallen tree trunk. The result is "about the size of a piece of typing paper" and will be shown at the Venice Biennale.

I am not a painter. I don't devote myself as she does to making works of art. I don't live outside. But I do know this:

"'There are some ways you grow with other people,' she said. 'But this was something I felt like I needed to do. It was like a purification. I started to feel that I was out there not just to learn something about painting but about myself.'

"Part of what she learned, said Ms. Altfest, who was born and raised in Manhattan and educated at Cornell and the Yale School of Art, is that communing with nature begins to make one perhaps unnaturally attached to it.

"'I do feel this connection with the tree,' she explained. 'I felt like we were keeping each other company. I feel bad leaving the log, in a way, now that I'm done. I think about it sitting out there.'"

I think about the dragonflies and damselflies in the same way. The female Blue Dasher, caught in the spider's web, having twisted her abdomen and wing, unable to fly, certain to die or be eaten. The male Blue Dasher, so weighed down by mites that his abdomen was misshapen. The Calico Pennant, whose wings had folded in and hardened, hanging still to the stem where she emerged, forever frozen in place. The tiny damselflies, fluttering from grass blade to blade, in drenching rain and strong wind. I see them, and they see me.
These and Ellen Altfest are kindred spirits.

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