A week or so ago I had the opportunity to visit the Brandywine Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, PA, known for its prominent collection of works by the Wyeth family. It has always been one of my absolute favorite places. I’ve had important moments there, conversations and realizations, endings and beginnings, that have affected me greatly. Each time I return, I leave with some sort of inspiration, although it has often come in the most unexpected ways. This last visit was no exception. There is an exhibit there that is currently on display that presents 37 abstract watercolors painted by Andrew Wyeth that have never been seen before by the public. For the most part, Wyeth is considered a realist who worked in the regionalist style. In simpler terms, he painted what he saw of the area in which he lived, and that happened to be the Brandywine Valley. He also captured light in the most magnificent way, and that incredible aspect of his talent has always made me feel as though I was inside his paintings, rather than merely viewing them. Despite his classification as a realist, Wyeth also saw himself as an abstractionist because he felt as though he presented a view of his subjects that was both innovative and singularly meaningful. This was something I did not know about Wyeth until I saw the exhibit and read the following quote by him: “My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash, like something you caught out of the corner of your eye.” If we consider the idea of seeing something in this way, that sudden glimpse that makes us turn our heads, isn’t it often true that what we think we saw isn’t really there at all? Can we even imagine attempting to capture something like that in a painting?
The watercolors in the exhibit depict bits and pieces of things that leave us with this same kind of uncertainty as to what we’re actually looking at. Is it a section of bark on a birch tree trunk, or some splotches of mud coming through the snow? Is it a doorway through the woods, or a random square of branches that just happen to look that way? The most amazing thing is that with all the precision and realism removed, the paintings can’t be analyzed with the rational part of our minds, but have to be felt in deeper, more subconscious places. This just happens to be one of the goals of the abstractionist painter, so we quickly understand that this collection allows us to acknowledge Wyeth in the way in which he wanted to be seen, as someone who truly could capture these abstract flash moments. In the case of all art, in whatever form it takes, we read it, or view it, or listen to it, and ultimately experience it differently, depending on the subject matter at hand. Sometimes it is merely enjoyable, other times it makes us think, but the highest form of an artist’s expression almost always seems to move us in a very profound way. It inspires us, deeply, and this makes me wonder whether it’s because a kind of subconscious union has occurred. Wyeth created these abstract watercolors to capture more of a feeling than a reality, and when we view them, they evoke a certain stirring within us that stems from a subconscious place that we all share. We see bleakness, but we feel loneliness. We see darkness, but we feel fear. We see a glimmer of light, but we feel hope.
We may not all create at the level of Andrew Wyeth, but we certainly understand the desire to be inspired and to inspire others in return. As we go through our days, however, we spend an enormous amount of time with our rational minds in command. There is constant chatter, evaluation, and direction coming in, and when a subconscious feeling fights its way to the top, it often gets body slammed right back into the depths from which it came. When we seek enlightenment on a more spiritual plane, it is often during assigned moments while we meditate, do our yoga, commune with nature, or light candles in a church. Our own spontaneous moments of abstract flash are often labeled as unproductive and are shelved for a later time when we are idle. In astrology, the planet Neptune governs inspiration, a correlation that makes perfect sense since the ocean contains a power and a depth that we understand at only a minimal level. Each month the moon passes through each of the zodiac signs as she makes her way through her entire cycle, meeting up with all the planets in the solar system while on her journey. The Sun reminds her of purpose, Mars complains about tasks unfinished, Pluto demands the truth, and even Venus talks too much for her liking… but then she meets Neptune. The two sit in silence together, and read one another’s thoughts, the moon tall, thin, and blond, a Gwyneth Paltrow lookalike, and Neptune as an old sailor or surfer, weathered, soulful, and wise, seemingly one with the waters from which he rises. This is the energy of the upcoming week, as the moon crosses Neptune’s path early on, offering the suggestion that we take some time to slow down and allow inspiration to come to us, unscheduled, unbidden, uncontrolled. What do we glimpse in that place that lies just beyond what we can see? More importantly, what is it that we feel?
For today’s cocktail, a bit of research told me that lavender is one of the medicinal herbs thought to be connected to Neptune because it opens our minds to divine messages. Once I had that ingredient in my head, I allowed some inspiration to take over. What came to me was a gimlet style drink with lavender, salted honey, and apricot as the main flavor profile. I added lemon as the citrus complement, and vodka as the base spirit that would provide the drink’s power and intensity. Since I actually did tell my rational mind to sit the bench for this cocktail, I was excited to taste it and see where unbridled intervention had taken me. The end result definitely surprised me. There is sweetness and depth from both the honey and the apricot liqueur, which is brandy based, but the lemon balances it perfectly, and the salt dances around the edges just enough to brighten all the flavors even more. The vodka was the right choice because it provides enough of a punch, but it remains that smooth blank canvas onto which the other flavors are painted. The beautiful thing about cocktails made with honey is that they will always give you just a bit of foam if you shake hard enough. This led me to look for a garnish that could sit on top. The nigella plant is said to symbolize that which binds us all together, and it produces small, black seeds that are used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. These seeds sat perfectly on top of the foam as an appropriate garnish for this cocktail. We are all bound together by what occupies the realm of our subconscious minds. Cheers everyone! Happy Sunday. I hope you find your own moments of abstract flash on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
Long shake over ice.
Double strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with nigella seeds.
*Add 1 T dried lavender blossoms to 8 oz boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes. Strain and stir in 8 oz honey and a pinch of salt.
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