Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Eve: Two Paintings, Two Realities

Christmas Tree oil 26x35 1976When I was younger, Christmas Eve was always a magical night. We finished off the decorations on the tree, which seemed better every year, in anticipation of Christmas Day and wonderful gifts and visits from relatives, festive food and drinks. But the night itself was a wonder like no other. As I look back, the life-enhancing quality this time of year gave everyone has gradually been replaced by the imposition of something quite different, as the holiday progressively morphed into an orgy of un-affordable acquisition, more and more hideous decorations and music, with “consumers” spurred on by a massive onslaught of greed-driven corporate advertising.

Sometimes I can still sense a glimmer of the original quality that set these days apart from all others, but it takes effort now to evoke the feeling of past Christmas Eves. In the clamor of today’s rushed holiday insistence, it’s hard to remember why we celebrate the great significance, the beauty, and the ultimate tragedy and rebirth of this cyclical myth, whether literally true or not, a story that has been embodied in various forms throughout human history.

Over the years, I’ve only managed to complete two paintings relating directly to Christmas. The first, from 1976, was done after I had immersed myself in life in and around Blue Mountain Lake, a place that I felt then had granted me a successful return to an more meaningful way of living. The Adirondacks, in the early 1970s, especially the part my wife and I chose to settle in, was still quite wild and undeveloped, and this environment and the character of the year-round people living there in many ways reflected this. For a number of years, I experienced epiphanies from my encounters while living there, and these restored to me many of the visions of things in the way I’d seen them as a child.

At one level, the painting above is a rather straightforward rendition of that vision, embodied in a night view out the window of a house on Durant Road on Christmas Eve. Visible in the front yard, the Blanchards’ small but important balsam tree has been decorated with a single set of Christmas lights, the interior light in their house can be seen, and all the rest is immersed in that holy dark of my childhood, made all the more present and dominant by light from a single streetlight, partially illuminating the high scraper banks created by repeated deep snowfalls. There is something at work here that for me has to do with this special night, a combination of forms that I encountered and selectively chose to depict and accentuate in a particular way, hoping to convey what for me at that time and place reflected what Christmas could still be.

Christmas Eve (The Nativity) acrylic 19x22 1994The second painting (shown here), completed in 1994, is, as they say, “a whole nother smoke.” To begin with, it is not a depiction of any one actual place, but a composite based on a number of modest dwellings present in some of the less affluent parts of the Adirondacks. This painting does not live in the world of overly comfortable families happily frolicking in a pristine, gentrified wonderland of snow-laden security, nor is the scene we see here dominated by all the other cliché-ridden falsities offered up every year by our culture. I think there may be a glimmer of holiness to be found in this situation, if one cares to look beyond today’s often grotesque reality and accept that the myth may still be present here, although its presence must be metaphorical and allusive. This Nativity is taking place inside, on the color TV, barely discernible through the window. Santa, another ongoing motivating myth, is present on the roof with his reindeer, though flat and unmoving, homemade from plywood. The Wise Men have arrived on snowmobiles and in pickup trucks, guided by the overly bright farm light, which has become the Star of Bethlehem.

Paintings by Don Wynn: “Christmas Tree,” oil, 26” x35” (1976); and “Christmas Eve (The Nativity),” acrylic, 19” x 22” (1994).

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10 Responses

  1. Ethan says:

    Beautiful, intriguing pieces. Thank you for sharing.
    Merry Christmas 🎄

  2. Harv from Brant Lake says:

    Fascinating , thank you

  3. Andrew Hahn says:

    Great paintings! Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas.

  4. James Fox Jim Fox says:

    This is such a deep reaching piece – fitting for Christmas eve. The the artist’s words enhance his paintings for me. “… that holy dark of my childhood … a glimmer of holiness … this Nativity is taking place inside”. I am stirred to search for memories of holy places in my past, as I am challenged to see holiness in homely places, not just in church creches.

  5. Orapin Muench says:

    Beautiful paintings and touching accompanied article. The background story for each work makes me appreciate the painting even more.

    Hamden, CT

  6. Jane Mackintosh says:

    Thank you for these thoughts, reflections, remembrances. There is very little in today’s holidays that re-charges my batteries, and you’ve reminded me how to do it. It is an unsung gift of winter to be able to sit and reflect, and your writing and these paintings are certainly more meaningful than most of what’s out there. This is quite an unexpected gift.

  7. Helga Frick says:

    Jim Fox said it well: A deep reaching piece! Thank you for connecting us with our own often dormant lying dreams of days gone by, and with the ongoing search for meaning in a fast moving world, which misses so much. How wonderful that you are gifted as painter and poet! Thank you for sharing both with us.

  8. Joe Hansen says:

    The images you show don’t need to be separated by time, often just a few hundred feet. Many thanks to you and all the artists that enrich our lives.

  9. Hannie says:

    Thanks Don, profound piece, well understood..

  10. Charlie S says:

    “…after I had immersed myself in life in and around Blue Mountain Lake, a place that I felt then had granted me a successful return to an more meaningful way of living. The Adirondacks, in the early 1970s, especially the part my wife and I chose to settle in, was still quite wild and undeveloped, and this environment and the character of the year-round people living there in many ways reflected this.”

    The house in that first painting reminds me of Jimmy Condra’s old house which was formerly owned by a Blanchard. Reading your story I am reminded of my grandfather Robert G. Stehlin who lived on Durant Road until he died in 1974. Living in Blue Mountain Lake was a very spiritual experience for my Pop after being grown up in Brooklyn and Long Island most of his life. Going through his letters and journals which he wrote while living on Durant Road I often hear in his words “an more meaningful way of living” as there are a thousand little moments preserved where he talks about the birds and animals who came to his feeders or out of the woods onto his property and hints of the joy he got from seeing them, etc.

    And when you say, “the character of the year-round people living there…” things come out in his notes of the people he knew and appreciated in that quiet hamlet Blue Mountain Lake almost fifty years ago. Below are but mere snippets from his notes:

    February 26,1971 6 AM 12 degrees I awoke at 5:30 this morning and when I looked out the window a beautiful, lovely star was shining very bright. What a wonderful feeling witnessing this clear morning. It may get overcast later in the day and again give us more snow. Up here you just keep looking for more snow. I’m getting to believe that without snow we wouldn’t know we were in the hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake. No wonder people leave this place for the winter seasons.

    September 29,1971 10:55 AM 66 degrees The moving truck came yesterday at 1:35 PM and at 2:35 PM the truck left for Connecticut and Pete and Blanche (Cahill) left about half an hour later, so Durant Road last night was dark and deserted and it reminds me of the days before Blanche and Maury moved here. They were good days. Blue Mountain Lake is getting quieter and this is what a lot of people are finding out and want to buy in this hamlet. Let me say it’s like a place that is going to stay primitive, and this is what retired folks want and cannot find.
    A week ago yesterday the phone rang at 6 AM. It was Blanche she was really frightened as well as incoherent. I was not dressed so I said ‘tell me quick what is wrong?’ She told me she was paralyzed on her right side Christ help me. I ran over there in a cloudburst and when I got there I could hardly breathe as I was scared thinking what the heck can I do? Knowing nothing about these things I finally called Dr. Carroll and he got there at 8 AM, gave her a good examination, blood pressure, thyroid test, and what have you and finally said, ‘You have to go to your sister in Connecticut.’ Then he told me she could have another attack which could be fatal, so she called Mae, her sister, and she arranged to have Pete come up Monday morning to bring her back to Connecticut and that’s just what happened. So now Blanche is gone and Durant Road is really dark and lonely at night.
    Mr. and Mrs. Webb’s son, and his wife, own Hemlock Hall. What a place! It was built by Mr. and Mrs. Paul many years ago. I used to set traps on Mr. Paul’s land, and catching me one day he gave me hell, and as he said only because he didn’t want his beautiful setters to get into one of my traps. This was better than thirty years ago. From the owner of four square blocks of shoe factories in Philadelphia to a poor man, whose wife died in an old home in Warrensburg penniless…just ask yourself, like I do many times, what the heck good is money, for when your time is up money is of the least consequence. And so are you, because no matter what you do money cannot buy you, me or anyone else an extension of life. When our time comes we go and nothing stops this procedure it is the way of all life. Dust to dust.

    December 23,1971 8:55 AM -6 degrees I have my suet feeder full of suet and I was just watching a male grosbeak sitting on top of the cage trying to figure out how he can get some suet, but they are not the clinging type and don’t know how to hang onto the screen. If one ever does learn how I’ll need about twenty more feeders and a few hundred pounds of suet for them. Right now I cannot count how many of them are on the ground, but there has to be better than a hundred of them, and I’d rather see them here than on the road where some fool going like a bat out of hell will kill many of them. A few weeks ago, not far from the Forest House, there were twenty-four dead grosbeaks on the road, killed by some idiot traveling like hell.

    December 12,1972 1:35 PM 20 degrees I think of the many years ago when I used to go trapping with my sheepskin-lined heavy coat and high collar and knit cap. The coat was $5.50 which at that time was a real heap of dough. I gave that coat to old Ted Blanchard who was in charge of our dump, and who is now deceased.

    December 29,1972 It was 4 below 0 this morning. Our weather up here in Blue Mountain Lake has been the worst I have ever seen, and the few old-timers that are still left claim they have never seen a December like this. I’ve had a lot of people here since Christmas Eve when they took me to midnight mass. On Christmas night I had company, and the one woman said “shh shh shh I hear singing.” How they ever got on my porch I don’t know as I had no lights on, but it was one of Emory Savage’s daughters with her three little girls. Them kids had such lovely voices. All of Jimmy’s (Condra) kids sang carols to me over the phone, so now you have an idea of what I thought was a merry Christmas.

    January 8,1973 3 PM 22 degrees below zero Very often I think of many things from the past and to me this is a resurrection of happy days. I wonder why should I go back to them days since I am still alive and seeing all the beautiful things around me, the mountains, the gorgeous trees that have been here for hundreds of millions of years and stayed healthy long enough for me to enjoy them…..

    January 9,1973 When I came down at 6:55 AM the temperature was 16 below zero as against 22 below yesterday. I have been confined to the house for a good number of days, and believe me if I were not gifted with the blessing of being able to look out any of ten windows, and see all the beauty of nature, as well as watch all my bird friends, I would probably by now be 99% stir crazy.

    January 24,1974 9:30 AM 20 degrees clear Mabel LaPrairie and Emory Savage came in last night to celebrate my birthday and we had a few drinks and Mabel made special cookies for me and they also brought over a bottle from which we had partook, and a very enjoyable evening was spent by the three of us. A lot of people up in this country have sent me birthday cards and from where they know when my birthday was I simply cannot figure out. Just the same I certainly did appreciate their thoughts to me.

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