“Eyes of a blue dog. I’ve written it everywhere.”
Gabriel García Márquez
Was it art or sea that I saw first when I was born, I wonder? Probably the first one was art. Sea has always been there too, and yet I started to notice it only years later. I grew up immersed in art: paintings, installations, grandmother’s theater shows, parties filled with music, and even granddad’s architecture models served as flying carpets for my hungry imagination. A decade ago I moved away from the city to live by the sea, only to discover, how similar they both are in some peculiar way: the sea and art. The sea is nature while the art is man-made, yes, I know. And yet both give me hope and fuel my soul.
Art is god’s eyes, my dad used to say. He also said that angels are fighting for him in his art studio. But he also became a young boy whenever he was by the sea – his childhood kingdom, his voice changed, and he became alive. Would there be art or even the idea of angels without the sea and its depth and its vastness? Would there be dreams to dream without the horizon line?
Dad was shapeshifting always, there was a period when he worked with colors, that are glowing in ultraviolet light; he had to paint for hours in purple nightclub darkness until his eyes hurt. In this period one artwork was born that became my guardian guide for years to come. It is called A Walk With My Blue Dog. A painting – luminous blue, glowing in a dim gallery hall. It has a phosphorescent yellow-green edge close to the ground as if the canvas would be trying to leave its frame. There’s nothing in the painting, only the sense of the vastness of a seaside under the open sky. The blue dog is nowhere to be seen. Has he run after a stick you have thrown at this eternal beach? A pair of light blue plaster dog shit is left on the gallery floor as evidence.
Exhibition Home Video opens in December 2008. I enter the gallery. The walls are dark red, and the varnished floors are all shiny. The lights are out, and the rooms are dim. Paintings and installations covered in acrylic are glowing in the dark. I stand still by a painting A Walk With My Blue Dog, the first time when I see it. “A devastating loss can shatter the façade we put up for others, exposing our deepest, rawest self. A work of art can do the same,” writes Julia F. Christensen. It will be a long road to my “rawest self”, but it started right there, looking at a blue painting with a dog that runs only in imagination. The only truth to hold on to. A few months before the show, on my 24th birthday, I found out that my dad isn’t my real dad. I was still wrapping my head around that fact after being lied to for a long time and kept looking at the blue in the dark.
A similar moment will happen eight years later, in 2016. I will nearly lose him again: my dad was in a sanatorium by the sea after a car crash that changed his and our lives. After visiting him I kept going down to my beach to just stare out to sea. I didn’t see anything in particular and yet I saw everything at the same time. It was just like with the blue dog. The sea at that time was the only hope to hold on to. My road to the Sea Library started there. I followed the blue dog.
The sea is so huge in every sense of the word that artists are struggling to frame it just like writers are trying to name it. They struggle and succeed in the most wonderful ways. I’m reading a fantastic book right now, “Looking to Sea” by Lily Le Brun, and it inspired me to search for artists painting or drawing the sea in the books of the Sea Library.
There’s an imagined character, Plasson, in Alessandro Baricco’s “Ocean Sea” who paints the sea all day long until the tide is so high, he becomes immersed in the sea by sunset. And then there’s a real artist, the late Walter Anderson, who is beautifully portrayed by E. B. Lewis as immersed in the sea while drawing everything he saw and experienced on his secret island for years and years. And then there’s Pat de Groot, an artist who in my dreams tends to come as the sea itself or sometimes as a sea fog. She lived so very close to the sea, that her windows were her paintings and her paintings were seaward windows. A friend sent me a video the other day filmed from the house where she used to live: a stormy sea was licking the glass, huge grey waves kept crashing against the deck, and the house had become a ship in the middle of the sea.
Is it possible to think of anything else, I clicked play and wondered, when living nearly inside the sea, especially for an artist… It’s not only the houses that the sea can threaten to take or actually take away. The sea can also steal hearts and flood minds, and wash away all paintings. And yet it gives back even more: the sea – with all its charted and uncharted depths, named and unnamed creatures – gives us back our soul, and suddenly we are able to see the blue dog.
I keep returning to dad’s painting often. When the invisible dog has happily run away, I look around. Paying attention can be lifesaving in the middle of the sea. It can be lifesaving at the edge of the land, too. To stand at the beach, to see the sand dotted by the rain and rigged by the wind, to hear the song of the gull, that eerie call, starting slow, then faster, and faster as if kickstarting an old moped. To see how a wave breaks on the sandbank and its white crest grows from middle to sides as if the sea would play the piano. To notice what is and to become it for a blissful moment: a frozen seaweed on a pink winter morning.
I there an artwork in your life that helps you to see?
And is there artwork that helps you to see the sea?
Happy New Year,
Photo above: my boys and I immersed in “Thirst” by Latvian artist Voldemārs Johansons.