While we don't get much snow here in Portland, we do get this deliciously mysterious, frosty fog that settles into the hills and dales of town and down our street. This morning, it really feels like fall is here in its more quietly Novemberish (rather than its blazingly Septemberish) way.
I have so loved the comments that have come in here this week — thank you for all of those, especially yesterday's, about influences and what engenders them. It's funny to stop and think about it, really; when I woke up this morning the first whispering thought in my mind was Oh, Arthur! Arthur Rackham, a huge influence in my life. He captured these frowsy, sylvan atmospheres (my favorite kind of weather) in almost every painting. I could look at them forever.
This is The fairies have their tiffs with the birds, for instance, 1906, from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. When I was studying in London for a little while in college I lived just blocks from here, on Queen's Gate, and I sat in front of the Serpentine for hours, trying to imprint it. I wrote my senior thesis on Arthur Rackham in 1991, a year-long project where I analyzed Rackham's fascinating blend of magic and the prosaic, fairies dressed in tattered calicoes. I had been mesmerized by his paintings all my life — my mother was since childhood and is to this day a great lover of fairy culture — and Rackham's work still moves me. In 1990 it was difficult to find information about Arthur Rackham, believe it or not — a major biography came out about him that year, just after I was finishing my own research, but previous to that it was hunt and peck, at least from my study carrel in Denkman Library. Around that time the Grunge and the Waif movements were happening in fashion, so there was a bit of a Pre-Raphaelite revival, too, and it became easier to find images and information about John William Waterhouse, for instance, whose art also had this same blend of magic and realism, with its tangly haired, melancholy beauties in their moody realms. There have been some gorgeous books published on Victorian painting in the last decade, and I now have a few. Doing research was so different before the internet. Wow. Now it's all here, in seconds. Then it was hardcover editions of the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature and a bunch of inter-library-loan-request slips, and weeks of waiting, or a long, blizzard-blinded drive out to Iowa City to use the University of Iowa library.
I've had a conflicted relationship with the forest all my life, and that stems from childhood. It's what happens when you have a father who wakes the whole family up at 3 a.m. to head out to the woods and help him search for wild dogs. I can imagine my mother, zipping coats over our own torn nightgowns, dragging her three little girls through the dark streets to the edge of our neighborhood forest preserve, and then inside that pitch-black otherworld, my father stumbling ahead of us. It makes my heart hurt now, just thinking about it, the fear I felt both about the wild dogs and the adults leading me to them.
With some influences, there is little-to-no mystery about their genesis. I only rarely feel at home in the woods, though I long for them some days. My front yard has, most of the time, magic enough (dogwood buds with fairy wings and silken-stranded cobwebs) for me.