Maine and the Visual Imagination

Judith Reeve, “Immense Sea”, 2018, 20″x30″.

“The Artist is engaged in a spiritual activity whose essence consists in the precise delineation of reality, which is revealed to the visionary Imagination.”

Rockwell Kent taken from William Blake

This quote hangs on the wall of my studio and it clearly expresses my approach to painting. Kent, who traveled and painted the Arctic landscape, exemplifies Blake’s concept. Kent’s landscapes go beyond merely depicting the vast open spaces of the Arctic but embody an imaginal element that speaks to the viewer about our own existential place on earth. He places humanity in the realm of Zarathustra (see Kent’s, Wilderness).

But Kent’s paintings do not negate in any way what rose up before him. He places man precisely in reality and is true to his experience of the moment. But what makes the work remarkable, is that Kent allows freedom for the imagination to occupy that same place as the visual reality before him.  Both can exist simultaneously and each can have a voice in the image. Kent’s passion for the North, particularly Greenland, comes from the immensity and expansiveness of that place unmarred by man. It is a place of solitude where the imagination can easily find expression.

Judith Reeve, “Great Head”, 2018, 20″x30″.

Is it even possible to find that balance of isolation and imaginative freedom now? I think every artist has that place somewhere where they feel the expressive possibilities of both worlds- the depiction of reality within the natural world and a place of visitation for the imagination. In my own experience, the sea provides that space of immensity, expansiveness and acts as a portal of an imaginal vision seeking it’s imprint upon reality. It is the very reason I travel to the coast of Maine as much as I can. It is a retreat from my normal, harried existence and an immersion into another realm removed and yet a more concentrated experience of reality.

Judith Reeve, “Surf”, 2018, 20″x30″.

The sea is a symbol that has effected painters and writers of America. They have qualified the sea as a medium in which we see our true existence amplified. I often think of Melville’s, Moby Dick, and how the whale symbolizes those deep, unconscious realities that we only have a mere intuition and feeling of. But it is these realities, the spindrift surfacing deep from the sea floor (Rumi), that gives meaning to our existence, creates a longing to know our place in the world, that cannot be suppressed. Ishmael needs to get to sea because he has lost touch with his inner self and if he remains on land his longing will be too great to bear. His inner life will be annihilated under the superficiality that consumes much of our daily existence.

Judith Reeve, “Approaching Storm”, 2018, 16″x22″.

So, this year, I present to you my Maine coast paintings as a way to meditate on the beauty of the sea amid an imaginal vision seeking to call us back to ourselves, back from the brink of forgetfulness.

Judith Reeve, “Rocks Before Great Head”, 2018, 16″x22″.
Judith Reeve, “In the Mist”, 2018, 16″x22″.
Judith Reeve, “Wave Shadow”, 2018, 6″x8″.

Please join the Attentive Equations Newsletter to receive regular updates…

To the Sea

Judith Reeve, “Wind from the Nor’east”, oil on linen, 20″x 30″, 2017

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;…and especially whenever my hypos get the upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can…There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.” [Melville’s Moby Dick, ch.1]

As long as I can remember, I have always loved the sea and yearned to be near it. As a child, I loved sea adventure stories and Conrad, Melville, Dana and Verne. In my senior year in high school English class, I was the only student to freely choose Moby Dick to read and write my culminating class paper. That love of the sea continues to this day and I find myself every year waiting impatiently to return. The briny smell, the wind and the crashing of the waves, the rock and tides- give me such a thrill. All these things get my enthusiasm going. And now that I paint, the images of the sea truly reflect my inmost self and my preoccupations with monumentality and vastness, fragility and permanence and the expanse of time set against the momentary experience. An incredible richness of life churns up from the sea and then returns to it. I admire the ruggedness of those that live and work on the sea as well as, all the creatures that sustain themselves in its harsh environment. The sea is beautiful because there is a bit of terror in it- terror as the Romantics saw it- expressing elements that are forceful and partially unknowable- residing on the edge of risk.

Judith Reeve,” Evening Surf”, oil on linen, 16″x 22″, 2017

Hence, my artist friends and I return to the Maine coast every year and camp in its vicinity immersing ourselves in the experience and expressing that immersion in paint and image (Previous years found at these links: 2015 and 2016).  I work from 8-9 hours a day in the elements. The difficulty with painting an image of the sea is its constant motion and fluctuation. One needs to seize upon the expression one desires quickly and stick to it amidst its constant transformations. As the tide and the position of the sun will not align on consecutive days, one needs to assert one’s imagination and power of memory to hold an image together. I find that my brushstroke takes on a more dynamic quality in the prescence of the sea. The churn and crash, the plume and the calm wave find much of their insistence through the stroke in the paint. This dominates over the expression of form alone- lit by the sun.

Judith Reeve, “Calm Sea, Otter Point”, oil on linen, 20″x 30″, 2017

Color is vivid in the rocks surrounded by the white semi-neutrality of the foam and wave. There is also an over-arching unity of color between sea, rock and sky as the reflected light of both the sea and sky are cast upon every surface-the sky reflected in the sea and top planes of the rocks and wells of water and the sea reflected on the down planes and wet surfaces of the rocks-A great unity of color and reflected light creating an atmosphere of beauty and wholeness. This year I used some new combinations of color. I created an orange from Y (cadmium lemon yellow+ raw sienna+ a touch of viridian to cool it off) added to my R (alizarin crimson+cadmium red vermilion). This worked well in the warm rocks, but also as a counterpoint to a blue-violet to create warm grays and gray-greens. I found that I needed to use two BV. My typical BV of ultramarine+mars violet and a BV of cobalt+ R (alizarin crimson+ cadmium red vermilion). The BV with the ultra and mars created perfect neutrality with viridian and created wonderful grays for the sky and sea when it was overcast or indefinite. It also created nice grays with the addition of OY. The other BV was more distinctly purple and worked well for cool rocks and violet accents in the sea. I did use some ivory black+ English red in the rocky crevices to create the necessary contrast of values. And of course, I used an excessive amount of viridian for all those cool greens in the waves.

Judith Reeve, “Pounding Wave and Foam”, oil on board, 12″x 16″, 2017

I had two days of spectacular waves at high tide with the wind from the northeast just pounding the rocks into shards. This was as thrilling as a roller-coaster ride and I have two images from those days- “Wind from the Nor’east” (20″x 30″) and “Pounding Wave and Foam”(12″x 16″). Here is a selection of paintings from my trip as well as some images taken by friends and people who photographed me on site and sent me their images. Thanks to all those kind people that felt the thrill as keenly as myself.

Photo by George Markos

Judith Reeve, “Summer Seas”, oil on linen, 20″x 30″, 2017

Judith Reeve, “Hazy Sea and Wave”, oil on linen, 16″x 22″, 2017

Judith Reeve, “Fog off the Coast”, oil on board, 12″x 16″, 2017

Judith Reeve, “Late Light”, oil on board, 6″x 8″, 2017

Judith Reeve, “Incoming Tide, Early Morning”, oil on board, 12″x 16″, 2017

Judith Reeve, “Isolated Cove, Maine”, oil on board, 12″x 16″, 2017

Judith Reeve, “Along the Bay of Fundy”, 20″x 30″, oil on linen, 2017

Photo by Jan Prentice