Why is Water So Compelling?


A river or an ocean.  Puddle, pond, pool.
Do they hold your fascination as they do mine?
Staring at water is something I really get into.
Looking back, I’m surprised to find so much water in my paintings.  It was not a calculated theme.  In fact, to tackle it head on would have been scary.  A zillion artists have approached it in as many ways.

The look back occurred because I saw a great show.  If you want to see something really special, go to Beverly Tharp‘s show, In Love With Lotus, at Far Out Gallery through September (2016).  Twenty years of pond-watching elegantly captured in photographs and a gem of a book.

Believing that the “why” is at least as important as the “how”, I wanted to articulate what makes me paint water.

Water has, of course, reflective and refractive properties that make painters swoon.  For me, there are other allures too, which are illustrated in experiences that color my perspective.

Mystery.  As a child, throwing a line into a murky cow pond and watching, as long as it took, until that float bobbed with a catfish on the hook.  Water the intermediary, concealing and revealing.

Transparency.  I think of a backpacking trip.  Voyeur to a school of trout hanging out at the mouth of a Sierra stream all day.  They gently swam nowhere into the current, for all I know, exchanging gossip.  At the end of the day, I caught one for dinner.

Power.  Sitting on a beach, feeling as much as seeing the pounding waves.  Body surfing, where my young life flashed before my eyes once while getting rolled by the Pacific.

Watching the ocean from the cliffs, I understand what glassmakers are going for as the low-angled light turns the seawater molten.

Physicality and boundary.  Swimming laps.  Immersion’s bouyancy is embracing, but the boundary is enforced by my need to breathe.  I have time to notice bright lines of sunlight dancing in a rainbow-tinged network.  I leave a lot of energy in the water.  How instantly it recovers from my disruptions!

What am I working on now?  Justifying hours in the pool with a painting of swimming bones.  Merging the water and bones, my fascination continues.

A Selection of Water Paintings
A selection of water paintings. Clockwise from top left:  New Year’s Day Cleone Lake, Neighbors, Fish in Kelp Strand, Fishing Noyo Harbor, A Pelican Takes Off over Shallow Water, Pescadero Marsh, Fleet, Wave Watching, and A Pair of Pelicans.

2 thoughts on “Why is Water So Compelling?”

  1. I, too, paint water, live by the ocean, and find it inspiring and calming. I loved reading your words as much as seeing your paintings.

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