M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Monday, November 30, 2009

Landscapes as Metaphors for Our Lives

"The Carry," by Andrew Wyeth, 2003, egg tempera. Private collection.

"Road Cut," by Andrew Wyeth, 1940, egg tempera, 15 1/8 x 34 1/2. Collection the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine.

"Palladian Villa in Tuscany," by M. Stephen Doherty, 2002, oil, 11 x 14.

My wife and I attended a concert by Michael Feinstein and David Hyde Pierce Saturday evening, and during one of Pierce's solo performances he sang "Your Face on My Pillow," a love song that John Kander wrote for his partner. The lyrics describe Kander's joy in waking up next to the person he loves, and it uses landscape images as metaphors for both the struggles and comforts of a daily life. At one point the song refers to the storms of the day being chased away by the proximity of his partner, and that particular image resonated with both my average workday and my landscape paintings.
The more I thought about Kander using sunlight, storms, and calm skies to identify his feelings, the more I considered that we artists use landscape forms as representations of our thoughts and feelings. For example, in his book Andrew Wyeth. Autobiography (Bullfinch Press, 1995), Mr. Wyeth mentions that one of his early egg tempera paintings captured both his personality and his ambitions for himself and his fiance, Betsey; and the wall text describing his 2003 painting The Carry (in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's 2006 exhibition, Memory & Magic), Mr. Wyeth explains that he invented this landscape scene to represent the turbulence of the 1980's when his drawings and paintings of Helga Testorf became the subject of so much gossip and controversy. He once told me that was an extremely difficult period of time for him, and we an actually read his feelings in the details of The Carry.
My painting of a Tuscan hillside is partially based on scene I observed, and partially on feelings I have about the classical order and symmetry of 18th century buildings by Palladio. To me, his buildings embody the peace, order, and discipline I would like to have in my life; and placing one of them in a real Italian landscape seemed to convey that desire.
I wonder if you ever see the elements in you landscape paintings as metaphor for the things you feel, want, or consider. Do you paint the "storms" of your life, or do you imagine a better world? I'd be interested in knowing that.


  1. Interesting topic.

    I do when I can make them work in a scene. The most profound (at least to me)was the view outside my window on a very cold day. I painted a frosted over window that offered an obscured view. This was an unusual painting for me, but it is still a "landscape."

    Winters can be especially difficult for me. So I wanted to show my thoughts and feelings in a painting, not just the "pretty" stuff. You can see it here: http://bit.ly/4AsQ5K

  2. I am a late blooming artist and have lately been feeling somewhat discourged by the end results of my paintings. Somewhere or somehow I am not conveying the 'feelings' which stir me to paint the subject.
    Interesting blog - glad I've found you.