Sunday, 7 October 2012

Lost in the Forest

One of the aspects of this residency that I really loved was that they gave us tastes of our environment before we set foot in the studio to paint. Our first Saturday was full, with the Press Conference (and there was an article in the paper), and with the allocation of studio space, and in the evening we had the official Opening of the event. (More on this later.) Sunday was a day to explore the landscape. We started off at around, and did not arrive back at our hotel until about 9pm. It was a day I looked forward to, as a painter who is inspired by landscape.
Latvia is fairly flat. There are endless forests, and curious paths that disappear randomly into their thick lines of verticals. We had trips to several locations. First there was a long walk down a forested hill to a wide river. We explored the river banks, went up a very tall, wooden tower to get a panoramic view, and then had a picnic by the river. We also visited a Bread Museum, which I will write about in detail in my next post.
As the light began to soften, we went to see Devil's Lake. The bus let us out on a dirt road leading into a forest that seemed to engulf the world. Our group ambled along this road chatting away, while our guides gathered mushrooms. (This is a national pastime.) I was amazed that within a tiny patch of mossy ground, you could see 6 or 7 different varieties of mushrooms: red, black, yellow with frills, yellow round ones, grey and domed, puffballs, flat beige, spotted. As our group were slowly walking along, I stopped with Anna to go to the toilet. (The strong vodka-like drink we'd had at the Bread Museum had created a sense of urgency!) We didn't take long, and hurried up the road to find our group. They were nowhere to be seen. We reached a fork in the road, by a large sign marking the lake. We had a choice, to take the road on the left (which went up a slight hill), or turn right and follow a very narrow, mossy path alongside the lake edge. The lake was in front of us, a crystal clear expanse, with the dark, serated reflections of pine trees. Still we could hear no voices. The forest was silent, not even birdsong punctuated the rhythmic verticals.
A car passed, and men stared out at us. For sure, two women alone in nowhere was very odd. We hoped they wouldn't come back! Were there bears, I wondered?
As evening was sapping the light, we had to make a decision. I said let's go back to where the bus left us. Anna was worried that the bus was collecting everyone from another point. But everything seemed to be saying to go back to our starting point, and just wait there. They would be sure to come back to look for us there.
The ridged, earthy road back seemed to go on forever. We passed the same groups of mushrooms, which were the only points of reference in a forest without signposts. Then, as we rounded a corner, there was the white bus. Our relief sent us into hysterical laugher, which began to echo around the trees. As we neared the group of our friends, our hysterical laughter grew even louder as we realised that no one had missed us! They were all busy drinking some more of the Vodka-like drink, and talking about Devil's Lake. Anna and I were passed small cups of this clear fluid, and I drank mine in one go. No one asked us where we'd been, and we were rather relieved. The talk was about Devil's Lake, and some related spooky or paranormal events, and how beautiful it had been.
Next day I began to mention to the other artists that we'd been lost. They all said, 'We didn't realise!' I guessed that they'd taken the mossy path by the lake, and somehow returned to our starting point on a road parallel to the one we were on. This painting is about that experience. I began it on my first day in the studio, but did not finish it until 2 days before the end of studio time.
('Into the Forest,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 90 x 60cm)

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