I finished this painting a few weeks ago, and I decided to call it The Marge. Marge as in Margin or Marginal.
Technically, I suppose, it shows a figure (as usual, my husband Dan) walking the beach at Scott’s Landing. Scott’s is a preserve where the northern edge of Deer Isle meets the Eggemoggin Reach. Scott’s Landing used to be the ferry landing, but since 1938 the Deer Isle Bridge has carried people across the reach from the mainland.
The Marge, though, isn’t just about the margin that divides the land and the sea, it’s also about the space where light meets shadow. The liminal space, the space of transformation, of discovery, of anticipation. (Dan is anticipating finding blue beach glass.)
To me, the painting is about the subconscious meeting the conscious, something I’ve had reason to think about – a lot – lately. Because art to me has always been about reaching into the subconscious, figuring out what it’s trying to tell me. I suspect it’s exceedingly bossy.
Sometimes I have marge moments where I understand how my subconscious is steering me. One day I figured out how it ordered me to pick up a ginko leaf.
When I lived in Washington, D.C., I took an abstract painting class at The Art League in Alexandria, Va., and I had to find a symbol.
I couldn’t decide. Then one rainy fall Saturday I went into the city to visit the National Gallery of Art. Afterward I walked back through the nearly empty streets to the Judiciary Square Metro stop, and I looked across the plaza at the Canadian Embassy.
Despite the Brutalist architecture I have fond feelings toward that embassy. I had a friend there, a public relations officer named Doug, who started his career as a stand-up comic in a Toronto nightclub with Howie Mandel. Then he went into the military, where I got to know him when he was with NORAD (long story, I was a reporter, he was a public relations officer). Then Doug went to the Canadian Embassy. He invited me to monthly luncheons with Canadian diplomats and military officers, along with U.S. business and government types. The food was great, the conversation interesting, and Doug always delivered a wildly funny monologue straight out of Monty Python.
So on that rainy Saturday I was walking to my Metro stop and I caught a glimpse of the red maple leaf on the Canadian flag fluttering above the embassy. Then I looked down and spied a yellow ginko leaf plastered onto the dark wet sidewalk. I knew instantly that was my symbol for my painting class. And then, moments later, I realized why: because of my pleasant thoughts about the Canadian Embassy.
Yikes, I thought. My subconscious is in charge.
Cleveland Museum of Art
Which brings me to Janet Moore.
I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and as a little girl I spent hundreds of hours in the Cleveland Museum of Art. A print from the museum, Renoir’s Mademoiselle Lacaux, gazed at me from my bedroom wall.
When I got older I’d walk to the museum and hang out with the American and European painters. I always visited J.M.W. Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.
I loved the Impressionists, like Monet’s The Red Cape.
And I always found David’s Cupid and Psyche entertaining.
There often weren’t many people in the museum, and I got in the habit of roaming around, glancing at paintings until one really grabbed me. I was in the Marge Zone.
Fast forward a bunch of decades and I moved to Deer Isle, Maine. Definitely the Marge Zone, the place where land meets sea and urban corporate nomads meet island fishermen descended from generations of island fishermen.
A few weeks ago a dear old friend from Shaker Heights came to visit. Her name is Janet, and I remembered she was named after a woman named Janet. An artist from Shaker Heights who moved to Deer Isle.
When Janet arrived I got the full story.
Janet Moore (read more about her here) was curator of children’s education at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her father taught at Dartmouth and had a summer home on Sand Beach Road in Deer Isle. When he died, he left the house to her, and she retired there.
I realized I had seen Janet Moore many times as a school girl on field trips to the museum. She would take us around to several paintings and talk about them. I’m sure she taught me to love Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons. In 1968 she distilled what she’d been telling us into a book, The Many Ways of Seeing An Introduction to the Pleasures of Art.
Back to the Marge
I wonder: Did my subconscious tell me to paint Dan hunting beach glass at Scott’s Landing because I loved that cadmium red cloak Monet painted?
I also wonder: Janet Moore certainly helped me feel at home in art museums. Because I feel at home in museums, do I feel at home on Deer Isle, as she did?
Questions to ponder.