I know just what you’re thinking: “Gosh I wish I had a grotto too!” For one thing, they are easily maintained: leaving it outside in rain and snow simply improves the look. Now show me a diamond and gold ring which gets better like that; its best promise is to freeze time, not enhance it. Remember, even gold wears out: the band on my mom’s engagement ring gradually disappeared over a mere fifty years, and my own silver ring engraved with Haida designs has lost all of its intricate carving in a decade. Come to think of it, a copper ring might be more interesting. My favourite building as a kid was the Fort Garry Hotel, largely because of its elegant copper verdigris roof. Again, you’d have to wait decades for that patina to form and probably have to be buried with it….but I digress.
As far as geologic time goes, we are of no interest to a rock, whose sole interest is its own hard heart. Luckily for us, most rock surfaces are come pre-decorated, already gloriously rich with colour and line, as well as permanent at least when viewed from the perspective of our tiny lifespans. I am drawn to their stillness as I write or paint, my eye often going to rest on the Credit Valley limestone which lines my studio and robes the house. All the important buildings in Winnipeg were gorgeous slab-cut pale Tyndall stone and even as a toddler I would fall under the spell of the multitudinous fossils they revealed. Carol Shields refers to it in perfectly titled novel, The Stone Diaries, which won the Pulitzer in 1995 .That our Credit Valley limestone cannot compete doesn’t mean I don’t search for fossils whenever I need a visual break.
(There - just caught myself doing that)
But a grotto is a different order of wonderful. The rocks are often softened in shape from eons of erosion by water in a marriage of form and function. Often sacred, grottos celebrate the long relationship that human beings have had with these natural caves, which functioned as both physical and spiritual sanctuaries. I am sitting in mine right now, as I write this, although the only water in the studio is in the large bowls of fertilized water in which last year’s geraniums are slowly being reborn. The large easel to my left holds the grotto from the Nahanni which occupies my visual cortex currently. In its final glazes, but nowhere close to being finished, “Grotto”’s small size, 16 x 20, betrays its status as a study for a much larger painting. Just like the first the chapter of a book, a study is only a date; If, and only if, I find myself in love with this study will I then commit to the massive work and hopefulness every long marriage entails.
Though I might change the title. Thinking of “Rock Concert.” Our home may be our sanctuary but noise-cancelling earphones are a food group
So here is the progress of the underpainting. Not much to love yet. Oh well.