“There’s nothing there!” scolded Joan, my plein air artist friend. “You’re sending us to a place next week, to a crossroads, where there is absolutely nothing to paint”. Joan was referring to the intersection of Black Rock Road and Brooklyn Street , Kings County, Nova Scotia — our fifth paint-out site of the season (we have 21 more to paint). “I go by there almost every week. Why are we going THERE?”
That’s part of the problem. Through familiarity Joan has become numbed to the nuances of this rural setting — the details many would miss just driving past. Along with six other artist friends we rhymed off to her the many scenes that can be captured there. “You can do the graveyard or the decaying house across the road from the Grafton Community Hall. What about the cows or the rows of corn in the farmer’s fields? Have you ever looked up the road, towards North Mountain, to see the thick fog hanging in the air from the Bay of Fundy? If you drive up the mountain you can look back at the patchwork quilt of farmer’s fields and see the sunlit silos across the Valley on the South Mountain. “
My wife, Anne, was trained in acrylic art by Floridian artist Joseph Melançon. He paints in the form of the Canadian Group of Seven artists and can create masterpieces from what look like banal landscape photos, devoid of details. He opens our artists’ eyes to the understated geography of rural settings. He creates something from what appears to be nothing.
In my travels across Canada it was the Prairies that struck me most as an artist. The smallest glimmer from a pond, the most subtle grouping of wild flowers, the flutter of startled ducks, the line of telephone pole after telephone pole, was magnified ten-fold in contrast to the expanse of fields and open sky. One notices more clearly the slightest shift in colour, line and form.
I have learned that, through artist’s eyes, when we focus we begin to see what may appear ordinary but in a new light. Bear River photographer and film maker, Tim Wilson, reminds me of that every time he posts another photo or video to his Facebook or website from rural Nova Scotia. Anyone see the film Maudie? Stricken with arthritis and almost stuck in a small house in rural Nova Scotia folk artist Maude Lewis managed to paint and paint and paint. There was always something to paint.
Look carefully and maybe stop awhile. There is always something to see (and do). To say that there’s “nothing there” is a rural myth.