Lighting the Silence, blog

clouds over desert mountains oil painting

We’ve all had blank spaces in our lives lately, places where friends might normally stand, unoccupied office desks, favorite restaurants with empty tables and “Closed” signs on their doors. Perhaps experiencing that societal void led me to subconsciously select the subject of the oil painting I did in May, 2020. 

Driving through Big Bend National Park toward Castelon, Ross Maxwell Drive provides a continuing view of the Chisos Mountains from the desert floor. You can see white mineral deposits where waterfalls once provided white noise rushing down from the Chisos Basin. Irrigation and drier times have changed that, but the famous "Window" is still a major watershed from high country to low. In my painting, the Window is formed by the dark, pointed triangle of a mountain near the center, as seen from a coyote’s eye view.

LIGHTING THE SILENCE uses what I call “white light” to cast a mood of tranquil anticipation. Something’s coming. There’s energy in the air, rain showers in the distance. And yet, in this painted moment, all is quiet. Serenely lovely, most of the mountains are veiled in blue shadows, yet one section of the Chisos shimmers in light. There is no soft transition. A mountain is lit, or it isn’t.

Yin and yang. White light, deep shadow. Energy and peace. Take away either element, and this painting would lose its drama. It’s the interplay of light and darkness that tells this painting’s story as it invites you in. (And do go in and wander around awhile. You'll likely feel better about life when you step back out of the painting. That mysterious connection is what art does for us.)

We’ve all experienced “white noise”, sound that seeps into your head in such a way, it becomes non-sound, a soothing backdrop. “White light” does the same. It gives your eyes permission to rest from color popping in and out of shadows. We see this light condition in the high country before a storm. One cliff will be washed in ghostly light, with everything else being shadowed. It's downright eerie.

I always pause when I see this phenomenon. Am I worried about the storm clouds? The darkness creeping across the land? Nope: I pause because it feels good to look at that eerie white light. It won’t be empty of color for long, but while it is, I can safely rest my eyes. Recharge. Embrace the silence before the storm hits, before whatever moves in to fill that space in Time. And something WILL move in to fill it: The Universe abhors a void, even a lovely one.

The noisy waterfalls of the Chisos are no more. Silence fills that space now. One day, that, too, will change. And so, I pause to paint the white noise and the white light I see before me in this moment. This moment is mine, and I share it with you. I hope you pause to enjoy it!