The WOW moment
Sometimes, you might be walking down a city street you’ve walked down a million times before, but suddenly it hits you. Like a thunderbolt, you are struck by how amazing everything looks. Not one thing in particular, but everything – the way the sunlight hits the pavement, the colours in the sky, the entire reality you are in just blows you away. It is as if everything has become more real, with a tactile quality you can touch. Well, when I experience a moment like that there is nothing for it but to get in the studio and put it down in paint.
It’s probably even more likely to happen when you are out in the countryside, and nature just creeps on you, and – WOW! You are transported. Well, walking through the Surrey woods with friends one early spring day, we were very happy to see the first appearance of the lovely bluebells. Well, these are very beautiful without a doubt. But I had already done a painting of them a few years ago, and was content just to smile and enjoy this delicate colourful display.
But then we turned a corner and found ourselves at the edge of a stream.
And there it was, a total surprise WOW moment. As soon as I returned to the studio I began painting. Beginning with the stream itself, and the sky I tried to capture that moment.
One time it hit me, just walking home late one night. The mercury vapour street lights were especially weird and atmospheric. I stepped out into the middle of the street, and was engulfed by something I had seen hundreds of times before, but which hit me as something totally new and amazing. Wow.
OK, so most of the time I am working on sculpture, or maybe on an environmental education project. Or I might be working hard on a touring sculpture installation like Moment to Moment, which requires planning and strategic thinking about the work I am creating. But hey, sometimes you just have to say to hell with all that conceptual claptrap, and just paint something beautiful that you saw.
I call this approach ‘retinal’ art. How weird you have to explain why you might want to paint something beautiful, but it seems you do. We used to rent a little cottage in the hills of Tuscany, and one day my girls wandered down to the bottom of the land, through the overgrown woods. It was frightening and quite dangerous, and they were calling out to me because they could no longer find their way back up.
I scrambled down through the thorns and branches and when I got to them – WOW. There it was again. Here was a view I had never seen before, opening its arms and beckoning me to paint. And that is precisely what I did.
A while ago I decided to visit my home town, New York. Feeling a bit jet lagged, I was up at dawn and wandered out of the hotel into Central Park. And just coming along the lake, something I had seen so many times before, just looked new and wonderful. And again, forgetting concept, I just painted it. I’m glad I did.