Imagining Solitude with ‘Winter Road’

A good college friend wheedled me into writing this all the way back in May so that I could submit it to an online magazine that was trying to catalog how art is helping people get through these wild times. I got a lovely personalized rejection note from the publisher who liked it but had already accepted too many submissions mentioning Georgia O’Keefe. I guess I’ll have to get more hipster with my inspiration in the future. At any rate, I quite like this piece and thought that it shouldn’t die alone in my inbox.

Winter Road I, Georgia O’Keefe 1963 Oil on Canvas

When I saw this painting at a traveling O’Keefe exhibition, I was a young teenager finally beginning to appreciate being dragged along on family trips to art galleries. I didn’t know what I liked or what to look for but this was a fine collection and I was learning how to walk slowly about in silence like my parents. Because I was having a pleasant time, I saw this unspectacular painting with its line and austere blank field and I paused to read the title card anyway. It said Winter Road. Instantly the topography inflated and bulged. I was speechless. I’d never seen nothingness so acrobatic. That feeling of discovery is what made me fall in love with this piece and what has kept me fascinated for so long after that moment. In the past few months I’ve been reminded often of that moment and that painting and it has taken on new meaning.

There’s something about a landscape that just doesn’t feel fair right now. I’m starving for new scenery and every photograph teases me with things I can’t have.
But I can never be wistful or long for the opportunity to visit Winter Road. I can never go there. It’s not just that it’s imaginary. It was barely even imagined. It is implied. In a hierarchy of reality it is sub-fantasy. Winter Road is less about imagining one’s self in a place, it’s about imagining the place itself. In my distracted anxiety, Winter Road is the focus and clarity I can’t muster in the rest of my life. It is meditation on a canvas.

Maybe that’s how I’ll remember these few months: a single line. Alone and suspended in negative space, implying depth and substance underneath that I can’t see.