Charles Ritchie, Window with Moon and Star, 1983, watercolor and pen and ink on Fabriano paper, image: 4 1/4 x 2 3/4″, sheet: 4 1/4 x 2 3/4″, frame: 14 x 11″, private collection, 1983.1.5
Place to Be
I was standing in the record store but suddenly I was somewhere else. Two musical lines were weaving around me; a gentle male tenor twining a cello. I was no longer in staring into a vinyl record bin; I was seeing into the soul of the sky. The year was 1978 and I was being introduced to Nick Drake’s Cello Song; music that would haunt me the rest of my life.
When I hear the fading passages of Cello Song; Nick’s voice rhyming the strings, the thock of tabla and leaping bass with Nick’s acoustic guitar ringing time, I am transported back to that first musical audience. The memory is so clear and yet simultaneously so ineffable. I inhabit my memory of both the physical space where I stood listening and the emotional sky of my imagination. It is like waking from a dream and remembering the exact feeling and atmosphere, yet being utterly helpless to transcribe it. How do we capture that place to be?
Creating a work of art often feels like an effort to to do just that. I look at each page of my journal as a path back to a particular moment in my life. Clearly defined or diffuse, the entries are road markers evoking many levels of past experience. The written word, the image I’ve painted, even the page itself can trigger memories of the context in which I was writing. It is the same with any of my works. They are references to previous lives; real and fictive. For example, my drawing Window with Moon and Star was created in a earlier residence. I recall the boat kept in the next driveway, the reproductions of works of art I was displaying on the walls, the window plants I watered, the sound of the piano played in the room above me, the smell of the basement apartment where I lived. And many other obscure and tangential associations and dreams of the time. Viewers are welcome to find something for themselves in my art; but I make my work for me. I build a place to return, a place to be.
By the way, the recordings of Nick Drake are my desert island disks. Before his untimely death he recorded three major releases and some odds and ends; each work restlessly brilliant in its own way. The title Place to Be refers one of Nick’s most evocative songs. How far can one voice with an acoustic guitar take you? Nick nears the brink. For those interested, an enlightening book on Nick’s troubled life is Darker than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake by Trevor Dann.
A final note, I deem Nick Drake an heir of English Romanticism; William Blake, Samuel Palmer, Edward Calvert, John Martin, John Constable; artists who have provided a deep well of inspiration for me. But that’s another journal entry.