View from a Window
Updated: Mar 10
While sitting at my desk, looking out the window, I noticed a large bird of prey had just landed on a branch. I'm not sure that I had seen that kind of raptor so up close before…. I wondered what it was and wished I had my binoculars close at hand. However, if I moved, l knew I would scare it away.
I tried to stay still and watch. It soon lifted off in a smooth and swift motion, speedily flying across my view into the landscape beyond. As I thought about it, I wondered if it might have been an osprey? If so, that would be very special indeed. I looked it up and sure enough the bird identification book confirmed my guess - definitely an osprey! Wow, that doesn't happen every day, and it was so close - a fleeting moment, and a highlight of my day.
I continued to stare out the window and the potted plants on the windowsill came into focus. I’ve been growing a random selection of plants and herbs during lockdown - or trying to. Now that the days are getting longer, there has been a noticeable change in their growth as the light extends. Throughout the winter I’ve been regrowing my spring onions in water and it is almost time to cut some of them to use in dishes this week. Usually I get a second use out of my store-bought spring onions this way, and it’s fun to watch them grow.
Recently, we’ve had more time to sit looking out of our windows... What is it that you see?
Whether the brick wall of the house next door, or a field, or a small garden space, or the sea - artists would argue that it's not so much about what we see as how we see it.
Many of the artists in history painted views from their windows:
Like views from windows, countless bowls of fruit have been painted throughout history. It is how the bowl of fruit is seen and painted that makes all the difference.
Even when our ability to move about is limited, art is one way we can travel.
So what is staring me in the face?
Well, the osprey was only a moment ago.
But what about now? What colours, palette, life, am I witness to in this moment, and how do I interpret that in my writing or on canvas?
‘We look through the window in front of us with only our eyes. It seems all we have at the moment is the view from our window. We’re locked down. But it is not so much what we are looking at - the important thing is that we have our own vision of the world. It’s our own lens that is in our heads that is made up of our emotions, our experience, our identity, our bodies…. This is our unique artistic vision - one of the most important things as an artist - finding that voice, finding that viewpoint. When you look out the window, you’re not looking through a piece of glass. You are looking through yourself.’ (Grayson Perry)
As it was International Women's Day yesterday, I'd like to bring to light the British artist, Winifred Nicholson, who often painted the view from her window.
'One of Nicholson’s favourite compositional techniques was to combine domestic objects with a landscape, often placing flower arrangements on a windowsill or a shelf in front of a landscape setting. This method resulted in a mingling of foreground and background, so that the near-at -hand and the far-away were treated as having an intimate relationship. Her paintings have two settings: her own domestic space and the wider space of the open world, as if one could give meaning to the other. Nicholson would go on to explore this device in all manner forms....
Sea Treasures, Winifred Nicholson
Though often viewed through windows or other framing devices, Nicholson’s landscapes are nearly always within reach. Nature is tangible, lived in.
She sought out local flora wherever she went, an enduring theme of her paintings. “Flowers mean different things to different people,” she wrote. “To me they are the secret of the cosmos.” '
(Christopher P. Jones)
Window-Sill, Winifred Nicholson
Another artist to mention is the American painter, Georgia O'Keefe. She lived in a very different environment to Winifred Nicholson, but the principle was the same. She brought a unique vision to every subject and every landscape.
Black Mesa Landscape, Georgia O'Keefe
'O’Keefe drew inspiration for her paintings from the natural world that enveloped her. Whether in Lake George, New York, where she spent time throughout her twenties and thirties, or in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where she’d later establish a studio and home, it was the flora and fauna, or the way that light reflected off of rocks, that mesmerised her.'
I lived and taught art in New Mexico in the late 1990's so this resonates powerfully with me.
“I wish you could see what I see out the window,” she wrote to her friend Arthur Dove in 1942. “The earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north—the full pale moon about to go down in an early morning lavender sky behind a very long beautiful tree covered mesa to the west—pink and purple hills in front and the scrubby fine dull green cedars—and a feeling of much space—It is a very beautiful world.” (Alexxa Gotthardt, Artsy)
I’m beginning to see other things springing up through the wet ground, like the snowdrops and the daffodils. Maybe I won't see the osprey through my window again, but each day is full of surprises. I'll keep looking.
Daffodils and Pewter Jug, Winifred Nicholson