Imaginary Radiance

Last week, I traveled to a part of the Catskill mountains near the high peaks. It is a dramatic and beautiful place with many hidden waterfalls and distant views of the mountains. It is a wonderful place to paint in complete solitude. This landscape speaks to me in many ways because of its epic quality. It seems to touch something within my being. There is an intuitive correspondence between myself and this particular landscape. Bachelard states a similar feeling,

“We dream before contemplating. Any landscape is a oneiric experience before becoming a conscious spectacle. We look with aesthetic passion only at those landscapes which we have first seen in dreams.” (Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, p.36)

Over the past several weeks, I have spent time meditating on something Bachelard calls an open imagination. When painting in the field all of my senses are entirely consumed in the moment. There is the sound of the water, the wind and the birds. My eyes are taken in completely by what lies before them. And my mind is occupied by my craft. There is an all-consuming, vibration of the senses. It feels that this “rational derangement of the senses” is what Rimbaud sought  in order to tap into a new kind of visionary poetry. By rational, I believe that Rimbaud meant  he sought it  by a  conscious effort or will. Although, I am not altogether convinced that it is entirely in the hands of the ego.

In the beginning, this type of painting I found very exhausting. Now, it is incredibly invigorating and leaves me entirely refreshed in spirit. In such a space, I find there is a fluid relationship between the observed world and what lies within myself. And I feel more receptive and open to wonder as to what lies hidden beneath the world of appearances. The “moment” takes on a peculiar significance that I am only aware of when I am in this particular space.

I often see writers in urban areas working in cafes and I think it has a similar effect on the senses. There is this ongoing surge of activity on which the writer’s senses are occupied and within that activity he finds a similar space that allows him complete absorption in his craft. The stimulation of the senses is like the sea- it is in constant flux and motion- but a motion with an underlying rhythm. And the writer or artist, when in this peculiar state of reverie, rises up like a bird above the sea, periodically reflecting upon the ocean but consumed with his own contemplation. The vertical axis can also reach down below the surface, and that bird can penetrate the depths as well. Charles Olsen often referred to himself as a cormorant- the bird that finds its food in the depths of the sea.

This vertical axis above and below our everyday consciousness is where creativity finds freedom and the artist can tap into the dwelling place of images. There is a fundamental force to an image that comes from this place of reverie. It is like a dream, but rarely hindered by our own inherent inabilities. It is a purer place of renewal and vitality opening oneself up to an unknown, a visionary possibility. These are the images that take on an imaginary radiance and lyricism.

“The imagination will see only if it has visions. And it will have visions if it is educated through reveries before being educated by experience, if experience follows as confirmation of its reveries.” ( Ibid.,p.16)

(More images from Summer Catskills Painting Retreat 2010 with Jan and Whit Prentice)

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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