|Kurt Plinke, Artist and Naturalist
Between the Waters
life, Art and The Nature of things Between the Atlantic and the Chesapeake
CONSIDERING WHY I PAINT AND WHAT I PAINT
FOR YEARS, I CONSIDERED MYSELF A WILDLIFE ARTIST. And really, that was what I was... a person who painted birds, and occasionally other wild creatures. I liked doing that. It was what interested me, what surrounded me and what, really, I lived. Over the past few years, however, I kept finding myself drifting away from just painting wildlife. A landscape, an abstract, even an occasional portrait crept onto a piece of watercolor paper in my studio. But these seemed to be no more than brief passing fancies. For a short time, I considered abandoning watercolors and moving completely to a different medium for the majority of my work. I was restless. Always a bit (or more than a bit) on the ADD continuum, I supposed I just quickly lost interest and was looking to snag the flittering butterfly outside the window.
I mean, I was just grasping at random thoughts and images. If it was something I saw or was intrigued by, I painted it. Or at least I considered how I would paint it. There was no real rhyme nor reason... just a series of semi-unrelated images flowing from brushes in my studio. Some I liked, and will probably paint more similar to them in the future. Others I have never even showed anyone, and probably never will. They were experiments.
Each time I branched out and painted using new techniques, new subjects or new colors, I felt as though I were looking for more than just a set of paintings, I was looking for a new theme.
It seems as though over the past months, I may have finally settled upon a theme for my work, besides just painting birds. But before I put a name to it, I need to explain a little. First, a theme is an underlying idea or message in a painting or a body of paintings. My theme has always been sort of The Wonder Of Wildlife. I say sort of, because really my paintings have always been almost illustrations in most cases. I once had a professor tell me that I was not an artist, I was an illustrator. I argued with him at the time, and still disagree, that illustration is Art. But that is not the point. My paintings were essentially illustrations of various species in their natural surroundings. And I am not saying that these do not have worth. I am saying that the theme of all of these paintings make up a group of works that I need to expand beyond; that I need to move in a direction with what I paint which has more personal meaning.
That was why I started painting landscapes, abstracts and experimenting with different mediums. I wanted to paint something with deeper meaning and I did not know where to go with that desire. For a while, I essentially stopped painting. I was at an end of having something to paint about.
As I considered what to paint, almost purely by chance, I began occasionally hanging out at a couple of places near to the studio. These were places like an old dairy beside the school where I teach. The dairy no longer functions as a local dairy, and may soon see perk test tubes in the fields surrounding the old barns and few remaining cows. Another is a swatch of land, barns and people who have become collectors of unusual hobbies. Here, falconing and small plot farming are the norm. Still another is the entire town of Greensboro, the town near where I live. All three of these places have something in common, and have lead me to a theme. All three places are grounded in the past, and struggling with a future full of change. The dairy is passing into history... a sad way to deal with change. Opposed to that, the land and people nearby have formed their own little island, a place to insulate themselves from change, to preserve old things and old ways of doing. Greensboro (like every small rural town) itself is in ways embracing the change, and in ways grasping at a past that is fading. And that, I recently realized, is what I want to paint... the changing history around the Eastern Shore that is happening right now. This is a theme that I feel has enough import to hold my attention, and can be expressed in a number of ways. Sometimes I am disheartened as I see our past falling away, like the roof of an old abandoned farm building as it collapses. I can paint those feelings. Sometimes I love how some things are constant throughout the passing of time, like decoys in the back of a truck or a bucket of fish freshly caught along the river. I know that these things, too, are changing. It seems that every year, fewer people spend a spring day fishing, or a cold wet morning in a duck blind. And it saddens me that these things may fade. As the Eastern Shore and it's people transform from an insulated group of rugged souls dependent upon the land and waters, it is inevitable that the place must change.
So in the end, I have come to a point where I am to be a historian, documenting the slow grinding of the wheel, the change from one way of life to another. My paintings, full of the things that satisfy artists, such as composition and movement and repetition, also are a sort of illustration... a documentation of the story of our times here in Maryland. Our Eastern Shore... a place where change has traditionally happened slowly, is beginning to catch up with those on the other side of the bay. Reluctantly, we are slowly modernizing. And in this modernization, this accelerated and sometimes unwanted change, there are poignant stories. My paintings are beginning to document these changes, these stories of people and place.
This does not mean I will abandon wildlife. The small things in nature that surround us here on the eastern shore still have fascinations for me, and still have stories to tell. I suspect that these paintings may include more and more of the interactions between the natural world and the changing human practices that are emerging or fading. After all, we still live on the land here, and we all still, in some ways, are connected to the natural eastern shore that continues around us.
If you want to see some of these stories of change, memories and growth of ourselves, of our homes, come to Summerfest in Denton in mid August. I'll have a collection of these stories there.
Kurt Plinke: About Life, Art and the Nature of Things on the Eastern Shore
I write about things I've noticed, places I've been, plans I've made and paintings I've finished or am thinking about.
See recent naturalist observations I have posted on iNaturalist: