The atmosphere here this morning is 16 degrees, crystal clear, and very beautiful. There’s powdered sugar snow on the ground. The light is hitting the house unencumbered by humidity or dust. You can see forever.
Yesterday was different. A storm was kicking up. The wind hit the sand dunes and lifted the dust and sand halfway up the Sangre de Cristos where it hit air that was heavier and colder. When I was driving home from the doc, I saw this amazing phenomenon. Sand 1/2 way up the mountains, a layer of clear air, snow clouds. If I painted that, no one who doesn’t live here would know what it was.
Several years ago, a woman I love, honor and respect deeply, a woman in her 90s, the mother of a friend, a fine painter of the colorist school said my paintings did not have atmosphere. I didn’t understand what she meant. I tried. I asked an artist friend and she explained it’s the air in a painting. I didn’t find that very helpful. Then I saw the episode on Simon Schama’s The Power of Art that looked at Turner’s paintings. I understood atmosphere after that.
I also learned to “see” Turner. He is, in some ways, my favorite painter. He painted Venice which, as Schama says in his video, was “made for Turner to paint.”
All three of my visits to Venice were of the Martha School. The air was crystal clear, the tourists frantic and hungry. The knotted cluster of streets labyrinthine. The whole thing a mass of confusion and beauty that was very, very, very difficult to see. It was a little claustrophobic, but I loved it. It had, for me, an emotional intensity that echoes difficult love. Atmosphere.