On a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay area, we spent a day at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. The featured exhibit was Modern Nature — Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George, covering the period of her life from 1918 to the early 1930's when she joined Alfred Stieglitz at his family estate on Lake George in New York state. Not only were the paintings sublime, but there were also some wonderful quotes from O’Keeffe about the nature of abstract art.
The first quote I really took notice of was this one:
Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.
A few paintings later, this one appeared on the wall:
It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colours put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint. [”Some Memories of Drawings”, Georgia O’Keeffe, Vikingpress, New York, 1976 ]
I thought about these quotes a lot as we toured Point Reyes National Park. Here is a place of grand vistas. I took a few snapshots, but none of them did the locale justice. They were just “a hill or a tree” to use O’Keeffe’s words. Why should I create yet another image of the ocean from a vantage point in Point Reyes, unless somehow it was unique? There wasn’t anything special about the light, since we were there in the early afternoon. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This is not to belittle the grand beauty that lay before us. But what we see with our eyes in awe can easily be cheapened by a so-so photograph.
It so happened that we ended up at Pierce Point Ranch, one of the oldest ranches on the peninsula and now open to the public. They had some of the original buildings there, and a short walk takes you right to the ocean at McClure’s Beach.
At first, I thought about taking shots of the buildings, but again, the light was not great. I took out my infrared camera. Nothing.
And then I started noticing the lichen. At first, I shot it from 1.5 feet away, the closest I could get with the lens I had on my camera. Select. Eliminate. Emphasize. Abstract. What did that mean in this environment? I switched to my macro lens, allowing me to get six to ten inches away. And for the next 90 minutes, I captured one image after another.
When we returned to San Diego, I realized I had the beginnings of a brand new series in a new medium. And so I created my new portfolio, Liking Lichen. In my other abstract portfolios, I spend a lot of time thinking of the right title. That just doesn’t seem quite right with these images. So I’ve given them quite pedestrian names, leaving it up to the viewer to decipher what, if anything, they mean.