Cool - Clear - Water

The title of this series comes from a popular song from the 1930’s written by the cowboy singer Bob Nolan. I was introduced to it through the Hank Williams version and a contemporary cover version of it, beautifully reharmonized and brought into current context by the American musican/poet Joni Mitchell.

The song describes the journey of a man and his mule across a desert, and a mirage they experience together. It is a song about a traveler wondering when faced with thirst, how he and his species fit into the natural order of things. The theme is contemporary, ancient, and universal. And the fundamental life energy being described is water. It is also about survival, in a visceral sense.

All of the major cultures of the world have a place in the history of their visual arts for the theme of water and, the container vessel (a symbol of the body, the earth, and regeneration) as seen in paintings, sculpture, fountains, and architecture. They are used as metaphors for the forces of life, moving in and out of containment. Water is the ultimate shape shifter.

Scientific inquiry has uncovered a lot about terrestrial water, such as the idea that most of it is trapped in rock under the earth’s surface, and that it came here most likely all at once, and the amount of it never increases or decreases. But there is even more that is really speculative, like, where it came from and when,.. from comets? To me the closest thing to real magic is water. If you photograph the landscape, eventually it will confront you.

Of course those of us occupying the 21st century are witnessing major transformations of our landscape: transformations of cultural geography in regard to the movement of people across the globe, as well as the physical transformations brought by drought and flood. The latter as seen recently in such diverse places as Australia, California, Syria, East Africa, New Orleans, Houston, New York, South Asia, and Puerto Rico. The dynamic presence of water, or extreme lack of it, is part of the daily news.

The reality of major climate change and its effects of focusing our attention on the preciousness of natural resources is defining the era we inhabit, in a big way, as it has for cultures before us. Our mysterious relationship to the landscape has once again become central to our own mythology. You don’t have to use helicopters, drones, and satellites to see that; it is right there in your own subconscious, where it has always been.


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