Paintings > Whale's Winter Song

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Whale's Winter Song



For many years I carried a fossilized ear bone of a whale in my pocket.  It was a strange object, black and polished by river and tides.  It fit perfectly in my hand.  Having grown up on the coast, this object reminded me of my love of the ocean.  About four years ago, I gave this treasured ear bone to a friend, who in return gave me a copy of Among Whales by Roger Payne.  In this book there was a chapter about whale vocalizations and sound propagation in water.  Payne raises the possibility of whales being aesthetic creatures whose understanding of beauty is determined primarily by sound.  I came to see the ear bone as the key to the whale's aesthetic experience.  Strange questions followed:  What would a sphere of sound look like? How would one articulate beauty in an echo of sound.  These are questions locked in the ear bone.  I decided to grind up a fossilized whale ear bone and use it as a pigment for paint.  And with this paint make a series of paintings exploring potential images of a whale's song moving through water.  But I had no ear bone and no notion of where to find one. The world works in strange ways.  A couple of weeks later I met a man who dives for shark teeth off the Carolinas.  I asked him if he ever found whale ear bones.  He laughed, “Oh lots.”  I asked if he would send me one, and a couple of weeks later he sent me a box of them as well as several broken shark teeth. 

I was not expecting him to send me any shark teeth.  As I contemplated these, I came to the conclusion that these teeth for the shark were analogous to the whale's ear bone.  The tooth is the essence of the shark.  I ground up a tooth and began a series of paintings.  In these paintings I attacked the paper with single brushstrokes.  I became quite interested in how these single brushstrokes were capable of revealing my state of mind at the time of their making.  When I hung several of them up on my wall to see what I had done, I realized that these paintings were quite similar in spirit to the Zen meditative practice of painting a single circle.