Saturday, July 6, 2013

Heat Wave

This seems like the right picture for these suddenly dogged days of summer. Boston is in the middle of a heat wave and each day everything bakes more and it takes longer to dispel the built-up warmth. The mornings are not much cooler than the evenings. It's an old story to be sure. Many of you already live in warm climates and this is what you call summer: you go to the movies or La Plage and drink beer and sangria. It's very nice actually.

But, on to my picture and my amusing discourse: Here's an old bird; a burden really. It rides on top of a shut-up cart that's tugged by a sturdy young tern under the shade of a spiky willow tree on the edge of a baked land.

Where are the going? It seems as if this is where they always are: surviving in some sort of shelter just shy of total disaster. But on they go over the rounded boulders in motion and static at the same time: like a good picture. Sit! Stay! Be here, in this exact spot --posing the same questions --forever, until we return and gaze upon this particular configuration of dramatic elements.

Where are we going when we go away from a picture? Has a pause button been activated? Or do the antagonists work out their narrative and simply wait for us to catch up? Can the illustrator make an entire story: Beginning, Middle and Satisfying End, out of one picture that proposes a simple relationship and a set of basic conditions?

I believe this is not possible and lazy.  A painter could end his exploration with one painting or just a series of questions. The illustrator-author however must finish the story even if the characters are themselves unfinished. And this may be the real task of fiction and the secret ingredient we need to pursue: the characters have more stories to tell and this is just one of those strands. The characters must be interrogated mercilessly (and plied with beer and sangria!) So, I know it's boring perhaps and it may seem arbitrary but here is what happens to this pair of birds:

1. This big bird cannot fly and Tern has sacrificed much to take it to a wiser bird (like the Wizard of Oz) to find a remedy. Of course, this is a flightless bird already and flying is a delusion. Enlightenment comes, gently and the two separate but remain fast friends who visit every year. 

2. Along the way, they encounter other creatures and eventually with all striving to propel the cart and its mysterious contents, they reach the ocean and seaside resort with ice cream stands, umbrellas, cool surf and other similar animals to play with. The sun goes down and there is a fireworks display. But what was in the cart? Maybe just blankets to share throughout the cool nighttime.

3. Or maybe, as the Tern pulls the larger bird along, he tells it stories and with each story, the large burden becomes smaller and lighter. In the end they have climbed a high mountain and can enjoy the view.
4. They stay in the shade the entire way. They are thankful for the forest that skirts the desert. The trees supply fruit that they eat and at night they find shelter in the safe branches from lurking hungry foxes below. But why are they in the forest and what does this tell us about each character? The tern wants to see what a forest is like. The large bird is easily frightened of shadows and foxes and things that go bump in the night. They make it through the night and discover that home was always nearby.
from my sketchbook: 06-25-13
watercolor, ink, charcoal, crayon
© 2013 Rob Dunlavey


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