For me, painting is a way to express my deepest feelings about the world around me. By creating and structuring a new world on paper or canvas, I show certain aspects of reality as I perceive them. What I express this way is a form of communication because I want my work to be seen by others.

One of the first things I do after I finish a painting is to show it to someone else. I want to know what they think of it. Have they felt anything of what I was trying to express? I consider the piece successful if there are people who are able to feel what I wanted to communicate.

What is communicated in this visual manner can be simple, such as a moment in time or a purely decorative arrangement of appealing shapes and colors. It can also be complicated; it can require the viewer to discover a meaning and to realize what that meaning might be. I think El Greco put this beautifully when he said he wanted his work“...to reach beyond objects to ideas and feelings, and beyond bodies to souls.” My painting spans various levels, from simple to complex.

I primarily use two different painting techniques: acrylic on canvas, and watercolor on paper. The first technique, acrylic on canvas, I use for paintings that I want to look substantial and polished. I work with watercolor when I want a looser, fluid style. An acrylic painting takes about ten times longer to paint than a watercolor because of the many layers of paint, or glazes, it takes to accomplish its polished, naturalistic look.

Golden Oaks With Riders, ©Beth Avary

In the painting “Golden Oaks With Riders”, we see a warm moment in time, a simple landscape painting. Afternoon light meanders through the trees turning the lichen a golden hue. Two riders are dwarfed by giant trees, completely absorbed within their surroundings. The large foxglove in the foreground seems fluidly connected with the rest of the landscape in the wonderful way that watercolor, with its capability to flow easily, provides the painter. The idea is simple, nature in harmony with itself.

Madonna, ©Beth Avary

“Madonna”, on the other hand, is an acrylic painting that asks the viewer to contemplate an aspect of the feminine archetype. Whenever I look at this painting, I have the feeling that I am in the presence of something more than a mere image on canvas.

When I first thought of a title for this work, I simply called it “The Queen”. It was only after the painting had been hanging for a while, that I was compelled to title it “Madonna”. I changed the title because I feel the image holds a broader significance than the idea of a queen, which is primarily that of authority and rank. The image in this painting also seems to me to embody highest consciousness, wisdom and virtue, and therefore needs a title that would carry a larger sense of importance. For me, “Madonna” was a title that would carry that kind of weightiness.

“Madonna” is painted to resemble a sculpture carved from a black rock, tektite, that comes through our atmosphere from outer space giving her a cosmic denotation, or universality. This dark rocky texture also gave her a heavy demeanor enhanced by the serious expression on her face. In her hand she holds a protostar instead of the orb of state. For me, the protostar symbolizes creation and birth, or new life.

Galactiscape, ©Beth Avary

“Galactiscape” is an acrylic painting dedicated to my love of science, astronomy and outer space. The universe is an amazing place! I went through a period when I was inspired to use astronomical themes, stars, moons, galaxies, etc., in most of my work. All of the glowing galaxies and nebula in the acrylic paintings are done with an airbrush. Acrylic paint dries too fast to be able to get the “no brush stroke” look with a regular paintbrush.

I am struck by the beautiful shapes and patterns the laws of the physical universe provide for our enjoyment. The spiral shape is especially interesting to me because it seems to be found at every level, from the macroscopic to the microscopic. Although perhaps formed by different processes, the spiral shape of the sea shell is an echo of the spiral galaxy. For me, this is an indication of the interconnectedness of all things.

But there is another aspect to this painting. A spiritual one. To illustrate this point, I have copied out part of a poem by William Wordsworth that I think captures this aspect:

“And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts: a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.”

In my view, the ways of thinking of science and religion, while perhaps not reconcilable, are not mutually exclusive. They can exist side by side, happily, in the same mind to the enrichment of the individual.

Black Beach, ©Beth Avary Double Moon, ©Beth Avary

“Black Beach” and “Double Moon” are two other acrylic works with otherworldly subject matter. It is interesting for me to imagine other planets in our galaxy and beyond that might be something like our own; with oceans, mountains, valleys and an atmosphere that would be able to sustain life forms.

I belong to a group called the International Association of Astronomical Artists. (Somebody asked me one time if these people were really huge artists!) This group is dedicated to painting otherworldly scenes. Many of these artists study the science behind their paintings, and try to paint what the science dictates a particular scene would look like. It’s amazing how many different opinions there can be about what a certain scene would “really” look like.

I like to combine science with my imagination to create a scene that is inspiring to the viewer in some way. I am more interested in how a painting makes me feel, than if it is absolutely scientifically accurate. As a matter of fact, I feel sometimes that if a scene were to be painted exactly as it would look, it would fall short of having any artistic merit. That is where an artist’s artistic license comes into play.

Sunset With Horses, ©Beth Avary

A watercolor that echoes the waterfall theme in “Double Moon” is “Sunset With Horses”. From my home in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California I can sometimes see the fog rolling in over the canyons. Occasionally the sun is setting while the sky is covered with fog, turning the fog to a deliciously pink color. This was an inspiration for the colors of the sky and the atmosphere of this painting. The huge coastal redwoods I have growing in my yard also were an inspiration for this painting. These giant trees dwarf everything around them and beg to be painted. While I don’t presently keep horses, I still love to look at them and I enjoy painting them.

I love waterfalls, lakes, oceans, ponds and pools, and often put them in my paintings. One reason water is so attractive to me is that it represents something unknown, a deeper level to the world of land and sky, a metaphor for the subconscious and intuitive wisdom.

There is also much symbolism associated with water. Baptism, for instance, holds the idea of death and rebirth. A person submerged in water (as they used to do) dies in a symbolic sense and is reborn upon emergence.

Many famous people have remarked on this symbolic aspect of water. The Buddha regarded the mountain-lake whose clear waters revealed many things on the bottom, as the path of redemption. Lao-Tse observed that ‘Water never rests,...When flowing above, it causes rain and dew. When flowing below, it forms streams and rivers. Water is outstanding in doing good. If a dam is raised against it it stops. If way is made for it, it flows along that path. Hence it is said it does not struggle. And yet it has no equal in destroying that which is strong and hard.’ Heraclitus remarked that ‘You cannot step twice into the same river; for fresh waters are eve flowing in upon you.’ Finally, Thoreau describes the lake as ‘the landscape’s most beautiful feature’ because it is ‘Earth’s eye in which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.’

The Offering, ©Beth Avary

Another acrylic painting with a canyon and waterfall theme is “The Offering”. In this piece, the waterfall is in an unusual and imaginative setting. It flows from the top of a cave-like rock down an entry way carved with a bird and a fish. The cave opens to a view of the universe, and the water falls into the center of a spiral galaxy deep within. In my mind, this is a way of showing the intimate connection between our world, i.e. ourselves, and the universe at large.
A woman stands before the cave carrying a bowl of fire in her outstretched hands. She is bringing the light of consciousness to the universe. Behind her hovers a white bird, symbol of the spirit.

The Phoenix Bird, ©Beth Avary

"The Phoenix Bird" is an acrylic painting that was done for the first illustration of a children's story with the same title. I retold the story using the Hans Christian Anderson version of the tale. To date I have not been able to find a publisher, but I am still hoping to do so one of these days.

The story says that the Phoenix Bird flies from its nest in an ancient rose tree every year when the first rose blooms. It flies around the world at the speed of light singing its beautiful song. It goes to every country and is there to spread enthusiasm, joy and love. It goes back to its nest to die in flames, but will rise again from the ashes the next year when the first rose blooms to begin the cycle all over again. I love this story because of its message of renewal and rebirth.

Mermaid, ©Beth Avary

“Mermaid” is another watercolor painting with an imaginary theme. The belief in mermaids has been around for a long time. There is a depiction of one in a frieze as early as 700 BC. They were usually thought of as being vain and morally reprehensible, luring men to their death. This is said to have heightened interest in them!

As Christianity supplanted the belief in pagan gods and goddesses, the belief in mermaids remained. The interest in them grew with sea exploration during the Elizabethan era, and they were on many coats of arms. During the Romantic movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, they became popular in fantasy fiction and poetry. Mermaids also were symbolic of the division between the human intellect and animal instincts.

In the 20th century the mermaid, while not taken seriously, is still popular. I found many web sites dedicated to mermaids while doing research to compile these notes. For me, she symbolizes feminine beauty and the instinctual, intuitive nature. Also, the fact that she is a water creature, seems to me to indicate the subconscious. At any event, I love underwater scenes and fantasy, and I really enjoyed doing this mermaid scene.

Ishtar, ©Beth Avary

“Ishtar” is an acrylic painting with a mythological theme. Ishtar is the name of the ancient Babylonian mother-goddess, sometimes called Ishtar-Aphrodite. The mother-goddess reigned over the sky as well as the earth. All the other gods and goddesses were subordinate to her.

I tried to show her complete dominion by making her body sky-like, while her hair and decorations are of the earth. Her necklace is formed of Escheresque silver and black lions, (said to be her animal) holding an emerald. Her hair flows out and becomes part of the earth itself.

I am interested in the ancient mother-goddess myths and cultures because it was a time, as I understand it, when the light and dark, masculine and feminine aspects of the world were honored equally and together. It seems when God became male, the feminine, dark principle became an inferior aspect, to the detriment of us all, in my opinion.

Beltane, ©Beth Avary

“Beltane” is an acrylic painting with a mythological theme that we still celebrate today, namely May Day. In the Celtic tradition the festival was called Beltane, and it was taken much more seriously than today. As a matter of fact, we have pretty much forgotten the meaning of this event.

Beltane is a day to celebrate the return of the fertile season, the growing of plants and the bearing of new life by livestock, all-important to the welfare of the human population. A wild party was thrown each year to celebrate this time, the fertile season.

The woman in the painting is wearing a wreath of flowers in her hair, a symbol of spring, the work of the sun and beauty. A white stag is seen in the background, the symbol of male fertility. My inspiration for this piece was a novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley called “The Mists of Avalon” in which she recreates the celebration of Beltane very convincingly.

Silver Wolf, ©Beth Avary

My wolf painting, “Silver Wolf” was painted in honor of the ancestor of our “best friend”, the modern dog. It is my understanding that all dogs, from every breed, descended from this noble creature.

“Silver Wolf” is similar to my Siberian Husky, who acts like a wolf. He is extremely independent, and he usually howls rather than barks. The foliage in “Silver Wolf” is imaginary, as is the wolf itself. While I use photographs for reference, I tried to capture the essence of the animal rather than paint any particular wolf. Likewise, the leaves suggest a forest setting, rather than portraying any particular forest.

A few years ago I moved to the edge of the wilderness in order to be immersed in the beauty of the natural world. My home shares a boundary line with Big Basin Redwoods State Park located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. The animals, trees, canyons and occasional peak of ocean view lighten my spirits and warm my heart. My surroundings have since become the inspiration for my work.

My work is currently centered on the landscape. I think that the beauty of the natural world is a healing force in its ability to calm the mind and create a feeling of wellbeing. If one puts aside daily concerns and allows a beautiful landscape to take hold, the next thing in my experience is to feel love for such beauty, and gratefulness that it exists.

I live in a particularly scenic part of the world as far as natural beauty is concerned. The Redwood trees that grow up to three hundred feet tall are simply majestic. Interlaced with these are madrone, oak, fir and other beautiful species, all adding interest and variety to the wilderness palette. To add to this mix, on any day I might see deer, raccoon, coyote, rattlesnake, raven, wild turkey, bobcat or even a mountain lion!

Running Free, ©Beth Avary
I have seen deer dissappearing down a slope that is this steep. I imagine it to look something like this.
Mountain Passage, ©Beth Avary
A completely imaginary scene, this painting was inspired by the waterfalls in Yosemite and the Santa Cruz Mountains. My friend has horses and i like to imagine them in various cirumstances.

The Santa Cruz Mountains are low, the highest point is probably not more than tree or four thousand feet high. I live on the top of a small mountain at seventeen hundred feet. The sun and moon rise are events that I witness every day.

Harvest Moon, ©Beth Avary
I can see the moon rise from my house. It is full, or nearly so, when it rises and the sun sets, giving it a wonderful golden-orange color. This is the scene I see from my window; with artistic license taken of course.

I never tire of watching the light change on the canyons during the day, no two days are the same. Sun, rain, fog and mist all play a part in this dynamic landscape providing a continuous source of inspiration.

Oak Tree with Sun, ©Beth Avary
I love to walk in the evening when the sun is going through the trees. I think the light is particularly beautiful at this time of day.

Major influences in all of my work have been the Pre-Raphaelite, Symbolist and Expressionist artists. Since I have concentrated on the landscape of my area, a number of people have pointed out a similarity between my work and the work of Eyvind Earle. I have always loved his work, but have only recently been consciously influenced by it.

My paintings sometimes share a feeling of mystical peacefulness with the viewer in the way that the landscape paintings of Maxfield Parish do, but the strength of color and form in my work follows more in the tradition of the Expressionist movement instigated by Van Gogh and Gauguin. It is for this reason I decided to call the work Naturalistic Expressionism.

I have traveled widely and have lived for a period of time in four countries outside of the United States; France, Mexico, Japan and Thailand. The art of these countries has also been an influence on my work.

There is a level of expression beyond words that is the area of my concern when I paint. I feel that painting, by its visual nature, provides a means to express ideas on this level. I am interested in touching the underlying beauty and radiance of the universe through my work. I paint in a naturalistic manner because for me, it is the best way to express my feelings. I attempt to evoke a sense of deep connection to the world around us, to create an almost mystical feeling of wholeness and peace.

For me, painting is about love; a search for beauty that inspires love and warms the heart.


2003