You may remember my family’s trip to Yellowstone National Park in June, last year. It sparked a new collection of colorful art in the Prismatic Series. While recently looking through the photos we took, I felt motivated to paint a new idea where earth and water collide in a new painting, The Golden Coast.
There are many ways to experience an ancient text. Art is the same. You can enjoy it quickly, appreciating it for its aesthetic appeal. Others may read it slowly and make a careful study of its meaning and form. While both ways are different, they both lead to an appreciation of the artwork.
Rather than reproduce a realistic painting of my subject, my goal is to paint how I feel about the outward appearance of my subject but also its inner essence. While the photo triggered an idea, it changed into something more.
As I applied the brush to the spilled ink, something unexpected happened. I enjoy working with the accidental discoveries. I respond to its natural resonance tapping into the Tao. A different landscape emerges from the combination of colors, as I add my energy to the painting.
In addition to the energetic lines of the landscape that forms beneath my brushes, I also discover a further surprise. I recognize the five elements of Taoism in the painting.
Canvas comes naturally when painting the sunrise on The Golden Coast
With this painting, I feel more comfortable working with canvas. There is a natural confidence to the way I apply thick layers of gesso. The first color poured into the center of the art is a mix of ink and dark brown paint.
I feel energy transferring through my thoughts to the brush in my hand. There is something more to this painting than the recreation of an image. It appears in the way the paint lifts in one direction and then falls back towards the other to create rolling hills.
Before the first layer of color dries completely in the center of the painting, I spill the second color, an orange on top of it. As my brushes draw out the color, it fuses with the brown below to forge a golden hue.
Again, I notice the way the paint manifests chi through the wavy lines of the painting. The swirls remind me of Yin and Yang, the two alternating forces of cosmic energy described in the Tao Te Ching. As well, the balance of dark color on light also reflects the unity of opposites or cycle of nature with two opposing sides.
The layers of brown and orange paint are thick. In the photo of the geyser at Yellowstone, a stain by the hot spring triggered the combination of colors. At first, there is only the white canvas with gesso surrounding the initial thick layers. Its final form remains a mystery.
When earth and water collide to reveal a mystery
Later, after I have worked my combination of dry Chinese brushes through the mix of spilled ink and blue paint does the mystery reveal itself. While historically, Chinese artists have used landscapes to explore Taoist themes, The Golden Coaststill surprises me.
In the extract below, the intricate lines etched into the vibrant blue draws the viewer’s eyes. This signature dry brushwork emphasizes the energetic lines in the painting. It creates a sense of movement as if blue water ebbs in waves toward a shore.
Even more delightful, is the image of a gold dragon captured against the backdrop of the dark brown earth. In classic Chinese art, dragons represent the embodiment of cosmic energy.
But the real mystery lies in the beauty of the landscape painting and how it embodies the five elements of Taoism.
White space, the void, and Taoism
White space, which in traditional Chinese art represents the void, still inhabits my finished painting. Do you see the white canvas in the example below? It blends with even lighter hues of brown and gold to form the sandy shore.
From a Taoist view, the white void beneath the balance of earth tones shows what becomes of the elements as earth and water collide.
A closer reading with the five-element theory of Taoism Philosophy
In Taoism, there is also only one path to living in accordance with your true nature to achieve a state of enlightenment. It divides to become two breaths, Yin and Yang, which gives birth to the five cycles of energy and form.
Wu Xing /五行or the five-element theory describes the five types of energy or chi that prevail at different times to create heaven, earth, and humankind. It lists the five elements as water, wood, fire, metal, and earth.
Wu Xing is often associated with Chinese medicine, cosmology and feng shui. However, as my painting where earth and water collide took shape, the interaction of the five elements in my art created a new surprise.
Sunrise on The Golden Coast
The full artwork as seen below depicts a morning sunrise on The Golden Coast.
To the viewer’s left, two eyes precede a dark shape that stirs in deeper water. Behind the creature, waves ripple toward the shallows, and the color of the ocean lightens as it drifts onto the shore.
Along the narrower shoreline, ocean waves lap at rocks. Further along, the coastline stretches out into a bright blinding sandy beach represented by the void.
Behind the long stretch of beach to the right side of the painting, upward lines indicate grass and trees growing at the bottom of hills represented by dark earth tones. The hills bask in the sunshine defined by the orange.
Another example of how the unity of opposites manifests in my paintings is the sharp contrast between the cold tone (blue) and the warm tones (orange/brown).
When applying the five-element theory, the hills in the middle of the painting represent earth, while the area behind the hills where the sun rises on the golden coast symbolizes fire. The ocean is water.
According to the five-element theory, fire generates earth, earth overcomes water and water overcomes fire.
Metal and wood also make an entrance in this painting. Wood parts earth providing protection from erosion on the hills. And metal collects water as the ocean rushes over the sand.
The collision of earth and water reveals five elements
The painting of The Golden Coastbegan as an idea triggered by seeing a stain of color in a photograph. I had no idea when I started painting that it would evolve into a landscape where earth and water collide.
By focusing on the energy that flowed through my subject, both its outward and inner appearance, as well as the energy flowing through my thoughts and into my hand, the painting grew into itself through a natural state of being.
Just as a glance at a photo inspires the painting of a landscape which reveals the five elements of the Tao, so too can a glimpse of an artwork reveal the beauty of a sunrise on a golden coast.