Making art is more about what you do with your eyes than what you do with your hands. I came to the conclusion some years ago, and that theory has been confirmed over and over again in my conversations with painters. “What I get out of painting is looking,” says Judy Evenson. “I see things I’ve never observed before.”
Judy has been interested in art all her life, although she only really started focusing on painting and exhibiting in the late ’80s. She now teaches and paints near her home in Southern Humboldt and she loves every minute of it.
She says her subject matter is, “the world around me.” Surrounded by the beauty of the North Coast, she also seeks it out everywhere she goes. When I spoke to her last week she had just returned from a trip to Death Valley. “I couldn’t fill my eyes,” she enthused, and I could see the images in my head as she spoke. She also travels often to Greece to visit her daughter and there she enjoys painting the different light and colors.
But while Judy doesn’t limit herself to any specific subject, her current exhibit is “landscape as it relates to a body of water.” That has to do with the venue — it’s at the Humboldt Baykeeper office in Eureka. Water is constantly changing and is intriguing for the way it reflects and refracts. It’s a challenge to paint, but endlessly entertaining. Judy’s paintings are clear and bright, emphasizing the variety of colors in the landscape.
Humboldt Baykeeper is a fairly new organization (launched in 2004) dedicated to the protection of our coastal waters. It has been coming up on my radar screen in the last few months because of their incorporation of art. Their magazine, Currents, usually features an interesting artist, and then I saw that they were open for Arts Alive! and that Judy is exhibiting there.
A lot of folks might not see the connection between an environmental organization and art, but if you think about it it’s actually a good combination. Artists and environmentalists both spend a lot of time looking. They are both concerned with beauty and the preservation of beauty. And I’ve had beauty on my mind a lot lately.
I recently googled the phrase “Beauty is only skin deep.” According to one phrase dictionary, it means that physical beauty is superficial. We quote this phrase to our children because we want them to understand that there is more to a person than what’s on the outside, that they shouldn’t judge people by their outward appearance. I don’t disagree with that, but I’d like to offer a few points for you to ponder.
I contest the idea that physical beauty is superficial. While different cultures have different standards of beauty, there are some things that are universal — clear skin, bright eyes, thick shiny hair. Such standards are not arbitrary. There is a clear biological reason for our attraction to them: They are indications of good health. So beauty is more than skin deep. A robust, disease-free person, regardless of individual quirks, will almost undoubtedly be perceived as attractive, if not supermodel material.
Now, if individual beauty is an indication of good health, then we can extrapolate from that, that the beauty of the environment is also an indication of health. We’re attracted to green hills, lush forests and clear water for the same reason that we’re attracted to shiny hair and eyes. We know that those things mean a clean and healthy place for us to live and breathe.
Thus, I make the argument that an appreciation of beauty is an environmentalist stance. Looking — really looking — is the first step in developing a relationship with the world around you. If you’re really looking, you notice when a river is dying or wildlife habitat is disappearing.
Someone sent me some articles on the subject of beauty in response to my last article. One by Ansel Adams said, “Art ... is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these.”
The enjoyment of beauty is not just entertainment. Beauty is not inherently superficial, although it can be looked at superficially. But real beauty is very deep and has powerful implications for us. Beauty is often spiritually moving and when it is experienced that way, it should be taken seriously.
Judy’s clear and brilliant watercolors are a joy to look at, as I’m sure they were a joy to produce. But if looking at them gives you a feeling of warmth and connection to the place we live in, don’t underestimate that response. That’s the idea behind this exhibit. That’s what Judy and the folks at Humboldt Baykeeper want you to feel. They want you to fall in love with a clean and healthy environment, and then fight fiercely to keep it that way. After all, it’s our birthright to breathe clean air, drink clean water and experience the beauty of the world around us.
Judy’s watercolors are on exhibit through the month of January at Humboldt Baykeeper, 217 E Street in Eureka. Thanks to Patricia Daniels for the Ansel Adams quote.