Watching the Seasons Pass Between Cities

green-highways-shelf_web.jpg

Making artwork is how I see and feel the world that surrounds me. Pressing the tip of a brush to paper, feeling the subtleties of my materials, putting down just the right colour… this is what helps me to understand. The act of creating helps me to reflect upon and learn from my experiences. It is a quiet and thoughtful process of working with my hands, mixing colours, and painting or printing. These actions are what allow me to move through the difficult and joyful things in my life.

A little over a year ago, my mum was diagnosed with cancer. Between that day and this one, countless complex and multi-layered experiences have taken place. When I look back on that time, the feeling of watching the seasons pass by along the road stays with me. I spent countless hours, feeling everything so intensely, and travelling back and forth between our cities of Ottawa and Montreal, Canada.

Since then, my feet have carried me steadily back to the studio and to making. As I navigate this time of grief and loss, I find myself creating a series based on the photos, sketches, notes, and memories of the drive between our two cities.

  “Roadside Fog”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.   

“Roadside Fog”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.
 

When I think back to her diagnosis, I see the subdued browns, greys, and muted purples of the November landscape. I had never fully realized their beauty before. There is a phrase here, in Quebec, that is used to describe this season, “sous la grisaille” which means “under the greyness”. Somehow this makes it a beautiful season in itself. Overcast days cast a soft light and bring out muted palettes of mauves, browns, rust reds...

This is the colour palette that marked the beginning of many trips back and forth between the city where I live now and the city in which I grew up. I remember groupings of hazy trees in a wealth of muted earth tones. Forests without leaves. I close my eyes and see corkscrew shrubbery, roadside grasses in yellow ochre, and the surprise sprinkle of a bright red berry.

This project has been for me a healing journey of reflection and of working with my hands. As I create each landscape, I feel a little more strength. It is almost as though each piece forms a gentle stitch, repairing a wound.

  “Winter Grasses”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.   

“Winter Grasses”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.
 

When I think of hospice visits, I think, too, of blue shadows on dazzling sunlit snow-covered farm fields. I remember icy boughs bending beneath their weight. Sparkling fields, crisp, clean lines. Evergreens topped with mounds of snow. A hushed silence and a sense of uncertainty. Would it be days? Weeks?

I have wondered at the marvel that is memory. At how clear certain snippets can be, and how hazy others. The specifics can become mixed or unclear. What we are left with is a sense of place, of colour, of light, and a few highly-rendered details.

I have thought much about the forward movement of life. The forward movement is, and was, almost visible in its relentless march – at times slow, and at times slipping too fast.

  “Flooded Gardens”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.   

“Flooded Gardens”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.
 

It seemed unstoppable as we moved into the summer of last birthdays. The verdant grasses and trees after summer rains. Bands of highways criss-crossing a sea of green. I think of rainy hydro corridors and of trees in the wind – their leaves turning up to reveal pale undersides. The stormy rain-saturated clouds of late summer. A red canoe. Overflowing gardens.

  “Green Highways”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.   

“Green Highways”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.
 

And, finally, we come to the quiet afterward. With this, came fall leaves crunching underfoot and blowing onto roadways. The garden tidied and tucked in for the season. Empty nests in treetops, chimneys dotting rooflines, the blur of passing highway barriers. I think of hard-specked rain drops blown in gusts of wind, and of softer rainy-day fog. I feel the cooler winds on my face and hands. Warm sweaters. Yellowed grasses, and a lone tree standing amid harvested and flattened fields. The landscape readying itself for winter.

I was left with a sadness, uncertainties… and the memory of a year of back-and-forths between two cities.

  “Dusk farm”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.   

“Dusk farm”, Between Cities series. Hand-made screenprint on paper.
 

Since then, there have been many days passed quietly in the studio – mixing the colour palettes of my memories. I have come to realize the many delicate nuances contained in the colour gradations of the natural landscape which require great care to capture.

This series, as with much of my work, is not about landmarks or glamourous subjects. Instead, it ponders small scenes that caught my eye and stayed in my memory. Small moments like these seem to be the very essence of living, for me, and they are deeply meaningful. When I think back to a place or an experience, I most often find that what I’ve been left with is a series of snippets: the dazzling light of summer, the smell of the earth right before it rains, the feel of textured concrete beneath my palms.... These are the things that bring back a particular moment in time for me and, in turn, the larger experiences and stories that took place around it.

winter-grasses-shelf-hand_web.jpg

As wet, bare branches reach into grey spring skies, I can feel a breath of air. The beginnings of coming through the other side of something. As I look toward the future, there is a quiet sense of possibility, and of hope for what lies ahead.

 

Visit Michelle's website, or follow her on Instagram. All artwork by Michelle Darwin - prints available here.