Memories are important to us all, especially to anyone who shoulders responsibilities of adult life. My sweet husband has lost much of his short term memory due to illness. Thankfully, he can remember some basic things, but daily living is a challenge. He can no longer remember how to travel from point A to point B, or when bills need to be paid, or what he told me about the day before. It is just one aspect of his illness, but an important one. As we have traveled this road together, I have become his memory. He depends on me to get him where he needs to be, prepare his medications or manage his life so that he is safe and secure.
As I reflected on my role as “the rememberer,” I couldn’t help but see the important role my memory plays as an artist and creator. I paint a lot of landscapes, and I take many, many photographs of the places I go. I very rarely use one as a direct reference. My clients often express amazement that I paint “from my head” and not necessarily what I actually have seen. (Plein air paintings are the rare exception, but most of my efforts are done in the studio – away from the bugs, heat, snakes, alligators, well, you get the idea.)
I rely on my memory to remind me of the smells, textures, light and shade of the scene that trigger my creative vision. When I’ve been away from the lowcountry awhile, I will bring out the photos and revisit in my mind all the places I love to paint. It’s a refresher course for my memory, and refills my creative tank. It’s my mental vacation.
It is not always photos that do the trick, though. Last night, I was in the studio rearranging…aren’t we always rearranging? I picked up a substantial zip-lock bag full of tiny seashells collected on one of my first trips to Rockport, Massachusetts. Most were grey swirls with pure white interiors, with an occasional bright yellow or white shell showing up in the stash. When I picked out a favorite or two, the memory of walking along Loblolly Cove, the crunch of the shells and rounded rock under my feet, the swift chill breeze on my face, and the heavy salt smell came to mind. I could picture the massive boulders just above the retreating tide, draped in seaweed that swirled like mermaid hair with each rise and fall of wave. I could still feel the salt residue on the shells. It was if I was back to that place…one of my favorite places.
In my creative processes, memory is my constant companion, and plays a critical role in how I do what I do. I use the echoes of things present and past to enhance my work. My vision -- my creations -- capture a flicker of the beauty and experience that surrounds me. It is something that I can share through my art. And I’m grateful for each and every memory. How do YOUR memories shape YOU and YOUR art?