Postcards from St Lucia
THROUGH THE RABBIT HOLE
Jan 30, 2006
I feel like I’ve fallen through the rabbit hole to Balenbouche. I find myself in one of the most wonderful places in the world: a beautiful, tropical Garden of Eden. A circular palm frond-roofed gazebo—my primitive al fresco art studio—perches next to a water lily pond. Nearby are wandering cows and fishing egrets. Balenbouche is an old 70 acre estate on St. Lucia run by Uta Lawaetz, a remarkable woman with world-class aesthetic taste. In addition to English and French antiques, her home is full of Asian and Mayan pieces, plus original paintings by artists who have painted here. It is like “Out of Africa” meets the Caribbean! Truly multi-cultural, Uta was born in Austria, raised in Germany, taught by Bauhaus-trained professors, and then worked in Japan as an architectural designer. She came here and decided to stay and “save” Balenbouche from ruin—which she has done. She and her two daughters impart a rare sense of loving kindness. Plus, the younger daughter is a gifted chef (the food is awesome). As you can imagine, it is an inspiring place to create art!
Upon my arrival last Monday, we drove down the long pitted driveway lined in magenta and purple bougainvillea, where a large honey-colored cow rested in the same shady spot as last year. I don’t think she has moved an inch in a year! The next day, a small pick-up truck drove in with a pregnant goat in it. It was fortuitous timing, as the chef daughter has long wanted a goat so she can make fresh goat’s cheese. In their one window of opportunity, as their mother wasn’t home, the daughters bought it immediately. Later their mother explained her share of goat misadventures, which were all very expensive. The chef daughter has been warned that she will be financially responsible for any damages incurred by her latest “pet”!
My third day here, as I was breakfasting on the dreamy veranda, a hummingbird encircled my head sticking its beak into my crop of tousled hair trying to figure out where the nectar was. Perhaps it’s a near-sighted hummingbird? I wasn’t even wearing my red hat!
Currently, croaking peepers, singing night birds and chirruping crickets have begun their twilight chorus, mixing with Balenbouche’s mélange of Cuban, African and French love songs. These rhythms are suddenly broken by a cow braying loudly in the background. Smells of coconut, ginger, garlic and chocolate waft from the kitchen. The dinner bell can’t be far behind! So, for now, I bid adieu.
Feb 7, 2006
Life is good here, and I’m enjoying what seems like a Caribbean version of “My Family and Other Animals.”
For starters, five dogs who set off a howling alarm whenever anyone arrives or departs, including a docile Doberman Pinscher (how’s that for an oxymoron?) named “Paco.” A chivalrous fellow, I call him “Senõr Paco.” My patient, gentlemanly buddy, he lies at my feet while I type, and accompanies me on beach excursions through fields full of potholes, cows, and humongous cow patties the size of steering wheels. The other dogs have exotic Asian-sounding names, except for one mutt called “Fishy.”
These four-legged fans, plus two calico cats gather in the kitchen during dinner preparations, along with wandering hungry humans and other animals. There is a fatter-than-a-football red-speckled tortoise originally named “Isabel.” When his correct gender was discovered, he was renamed “Bello.” I call him “HelloBello.” Sounds like a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor, doesn’t it?! He eats crimson-colored hibiscus leaves, has the run of the house, and is a favorite with young visitors.
In true tropical style, windows have no screens or glass. Their wooden shutters (good for privacy and hurricanes) are a poetic sea-foam green like in those in Matisse’s Mediterranean paintings. Hummingbirds dash in and out. They nibble on my bananas on a table near an antique four-poster bed crowned with mosquito netting draped like a flowing wedding veil. The bed is rumored to have been slept in by Josephine!
A 3” spring-green grasshopper is also attracted to my room. S/he looks most decorative on my black art portfolio. A Zen-like gecko hangs upside down on the wall while watching me work. The goat remains pregnant. We’re waiting for the full moon to see if that has the expected result!
Oh, yes, and bats!! A large one naps in the main room—at night, it wafts in and out like a swift breeze. Did I mention mosquitoes? Hordes of them! Fortunately, they are dined upon nightly by the bats swooping in and out of beams of light. Bougainvillea, hibiscus and wisteria vines wind up the veranda that houses our al fresco dining room with tables elegantly strewn with fresh flowers daily. Among these vines, magpie and grackles flap and complain in the mornings, waiting to steal a bite of bread. Under their beaks, iridescent green hummingbirds buzz.
The interior dining room table is bedecked with a bounteous bowl of fruit and flowers (and often a curious gecko) book-ended by gigantic leaves the size of shipping trunks. Being amidst nature’s beauty such as this makes me a happy camper! :)
I hope all’s well, warm and cozy with you.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Feb 15, 2006
I hope this finds you well, cozy and warm.
I’m busy happily painting. On the occasional windless, sun-filled day (not often this month), I “fling paint” under a circular palm-fronded gazebo framed by two small ponds encrusted with magenta and white lotus blossoms and lavender water hyacinths. On other days I paint in a loft-like barn, ancient with character. It’s raised on stone pillars and bamboo stilts an entire story above the ground; and is complete with a sloping floor, leaky roof, and bats in the pm! In this rustic space, I paint, let dry before dark, and then pack all safely away from bat guano. (Sounds like a recipe, eh?) It’s a commodious space, and more sheltered from rain and wind than the gazebo. Plus it has a HUGE floor upon which I can arrange my paintings into LARGE paintings. Heaven!
The paintings have been described as variously “hot,” and “a tempest of colors breathing, seeking, stretching for life.” I’m painting 8x8’ grid paintings made up of multiple canvases. One series looks like crashing sounds of surf and wind, patterns of sunlight and shadow on waves, plus tropical flora and archetypal symbols floating in the sea.
Two weeks ago, I led two British archeologists in search of petroglyphs to a near-by s-shaped ravine through which a milky stream flowed. (Fortunately, this Indiana Jones-like site was absent the flash flood.) Above it, etched on the walls of the rocky ravine by early Amerindians, were several petroglyphs including spiral shapes, and three markings that eerily reminded me of a tiny monkey’s face. A week after seeing these enigmatic markings, I realized what the black markings in my mostly sea-blue paintings were—petroglyph shapes from the ravine’s rocky cliffs!
Every morning, two tiny hummingbirds weave a thimble sized nest above my breakfast bower. Soon, I suspect, the nest will cradle some tiny eggs. Wow, eh?!
I hope all is well with each of you.
Sending you warmth and light,
FERTILE BEAUTY ON MANY FRONTS
March 13, 2006
I hope this finds you gearing up to greet Spring soon!
Thank you all for your wonderful comments and delightful responses to my last letter.
EXCITING NEWS: I’m having a one-person show in St Lucia! “Fertile Beauty” opened Sunday in the commodious Copra House Gallery. The loft-like second story space with a 360 degree view looking out huge windows gives the sense of being inside a highly aesthetic tree house.
In front of the (floor-to-ceiling) north window, a low black lacquered table is graced by a single orchid plant spouting a cascading stem of white blooms that shimmer in the sunlight. (This is to the right of my “Water Born” painting.) In front of a west (door-sized) window, a three foot tall slice of a tree trunk, looking like it has been cut out and escaped from one of my paintings, indolently soaks in the light as it leans into the door jam like a guy watching a doll!
Placed in front of yet another door-sized window is an assemblage composed from another large tree-trunk slice—this one perched on short legs, with an antique metal sprayer (with a bent arm) topped with a crenellated coconut bowl (like a head) ornamented with small holes through which light strains. Elsewhere, palm fronds and a stem of baby coconuts bow from a bamboo vase.
In the middle of this inviting space lounges a day-bed festooned Moroccan-style with multi-colored silk pillows. On a primitive table (from which drinks and appetizers were served at the opening reception), an intriguing metal vase boasts a bouquet of my paint incrusted brushes! I’m delighted to have my exhibit in such an elegant environment!
Happily, the paintings look stunning and were well-received! “Water Born,” a large wall-sized grid (8 x 7.5’), looks like the sea waves from different angles and the sound of surf.
“Jazz!,” another wall-sized grid (8 x 5’), is mostly yellow and red with black markings that remind me of the wisteria vines winding over the Main House’s graceful alfresco terrace, of tiny tendrils rampantly curling everywhere, and the large ropey branches twisting from the spreading banyan tree outside the Copra House’s east windows.
Several green and red paintings, “Fertile Beauty,” “Whirled” and “Seminal Light,” are reminiscent of the St Lucian Green Parrot and its rainforest habitat. (Hiking across a mountain spine through rain and mist in search of the elusive Green Parrot was an exhilarating experience. Accompanied by some British friends wearing 16’ banana leaves as umbrellas, we heard the loud squawking and glimpsed red flashes on the wings of 10 parrots flying overhead.) After this hike with its exhilarating sightings, I was inspired to paint with brilliant reds and greens.
Sunday’s reception for art collectors, consultants and gallery dealers was exciting and gratifying. A British man commented on the synergy between the refined and raw aesthetic of the gallery, the juicy dynamism of the paintings, and the visceral nature outside. I was delighted to hear people discuss the nature forms they saw in the paintings, and make connections between the paintings and the tropical nature that inspired the artwork. One collector said I was translating the energy of the natural world into paint and making it visible. Another said that I have been taking the natural world into my psyche, making it a part of me, and then letting it flow out of me. As I say, it was a very gratifying experience. It doesn’t get better than that!
After hearing these comments about connections between the nature shapes outside the windows and those on the paintings inside the gallery, I felt that my brain has been like a digital camera recording infinite minute details and computing them into fractal patterns of shapes, color, light and energy which I later expressed with paint on paper.
BULLETIN on the ‘animal’ front: The tiny Balenbouche hummingbird couple is the proud parents of two teeny tiny baby hummers. So far, I’ve glimpsed only a few slender tips of beaks pointing skyward, as the new parents hammerjack nectar down their throats!
The mother-to-be goat is literally 3’ (or more) wide. She can literally barely move and her hooves are worn down, apparently from the weight she is carrying. Hopefully she will deliver any day. I’ll keep you posted.
This is all SO exciting! I hope you are all well, hale and happy. I miss you all and send you lots of warmth, light and creative urges! Happy Spring soooon!
WEST INDIES GREETINGS AND HEARTS OF PALM
Feb 11, 2007
Hello everyone! Greetings from the West Indies!
It’s heavenly here. I’m enjoying painting, and the inspiration provided by this beautiful sanctuary. During the day, I paint, read, and soak in the rays of the sun. The evening is alive with Mother Nature’s resonant music. Tiny tree frogs sound like tingling bells, while large frogs make drilling noises like those of a woodpecker. From dusk til dawn, these sounds, along with birds and sonorous insects mix with African drumming, the occasional blows of a conch shell trumpeting fresh fish sold right off a local fisherman’s truck, and the surf crashing onto the reef in the distance. Overarching this serenading chorus, the night sky is awash in the brilliance of a zillion stars.
It is profoundly nurturing here. The people at Balenbouche are warm and wonderful. I feel deeply blessed in this elegant and yet simultaneously simple and harmonious place. Each meal, we dine al fresco under an arbor of wisteria over-arching an entrancing terrace lit, at night, by multi-colored star-shaped paper lanterns.
Last week’s specialty of the house was 4’ hearts of palm (the inside of a young—7 year old palm tree) cut and carried into the kitchen by Oliver, the resident gardener. That’s what I call fresh!
My “art studio” has moved from the huge barn to an outdoor canopy that stands under a huge mango tree next to a small lotus pond. When I lay my paintings out to dry on the grass, the birds come up to check them out—perhaps lured by the bright colors and organic shapes in them.
Today I accompanied friends to the beach at the magic hour. We enjoyed dipping in the rolling waves, and watching the sun’s golden glow illuminate the surf and tall
cliffs as it set, casting serenity ashore for the
I hope all is well with each of you, and that
you’re staying warm and cheery.