Details on the painting:
We’ve known Doug Lawson and his wife Giselle Gautreau in various ways for over thirty years. Doug is a writer and sailor of small boats, including Melonseeds. Giselle is an artist, a painter. We’ve always had much in common.
Before moving back to Virginia, they lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, which is, among many other fine things, fire country. Our daughter, Amanda, lived just a few miles away at the same time, so with one trek to the West Coast we could visit both.
Driving the countryside – whether in the mountains or valleys, even on the coast road and into the redwood forests – Terri and I were struck by the scars of past wildfires. Everywhere were unexpected reminders of its constant presence and destructive force. Some even still smoldering.
Back east, we would sometimes get texts from Doug and Giselle during fire season. On the smell of smoke, the strange color of the light, an ominous glow over the ridge, or throbbing pulse of choppers swinging buckets through the night sky overhead.
Years of living with the constant threat and visible presence of wildfire leaves scars on the psyche, as well as the landscape.
Safely back in Virginia, I suspect as a form of self-therapy, Giselle recorded the surreal aspect of that experience in a series of paintings, including a large one she called “Conflagration.” It hung in their house here for several years, and we always admired it.
After our own personal experience with fire, though, Terri and I saw it in a new way. A grass fire burning away across a wide field, it seems at once oddly normal, menacing, and beautiful. Fire thrives as a living part of the landscape, moving across it like a herd of cattle or flock of birds. A natural but dangerous predator, a pride of lions hunting gazelles.
Soon Terri and I realized there was a place to hang this painting in our house – now saved from the fire, but still scarred by it. As we are, too.
And so it does.