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  • Kenneth Cook

An Unexpected Vision

My latest painting now hanging at Gallery 621, Benicia, came in a vision, fully formed.

Last November, I was resting on my couch. As I was falling asleep, I had a dream I was flipping through my phone looking at pictures. Suddenly, in my dream, I swiped left and saw a picture of a white and variegated landscape with a black angular shape in the middle distance on the right. The foreground in the lower left was textured. I saw white streaks on the black shape that I knew would be painted with pine needles. I said to myself, right there in the dream, "Oh! That's a painting you haven't painted yet. You'll need to paint that one."

"In the wildest waste, so black and bare"...and image sent directly to my imagination...from somewhere.

Having purchased a large canvas, three feet by five feet, I set about to realize the image this past winter. I enjoyed moving across the canvas in large brush strokes, and building up textured layers with all kinds of knobby materials. As often happens in my painting, I saw a figure emerge from the shades and tints of the foreground as I sat looking at in the evening half light.

I didn't find the title until after the painting was completed. For a long time, the working title was "Bodie." I think the seed of the painting came from the shapes and desolation I saw during my trip Bodie, California, last September.

Angles on a bare landscape in Bodie, California

However, I wanted the title to be less about place and more about vision. I turned to one of my favorite poets, Robert Burns. He wrote "Auld Lang Syne" and "Comin' Through the Rye." He wrote in the Scots dialect, so reading his work takes some getting used to. A good Scots glossary helps.

On the last page of my book of his collected poems and songs, I found the last stanza of a poem I had not read before, "O, Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast." It's another Burns love song that takes your breath away.

Or were I in the wildest waste,

Sae black and bare , sae black and bare,

The desert were a Paradise

If thou wert there, if thou wert there.

As it fully captured all the elements of the painting, I choose "In the wildest waste, so black and bare." for the title. I changed "sae" to its English equivalent, "so", to make the meaning more clear in case I was not around to translate.

As you can see, she was, in fact, there, and the desert did, indeed, become a paradise.

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