Crossing The Styx

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Ancient Greeks believed after your death the boatman, Charon (Karon) would ferry you across the river Styx to the afterlife. Charon required a silver coin which some living relative had obligingly put beneath your tongue. Charon would then ferry you across the river Styx where your final obstacle would be to pass the three-headed dog Cerberus. You could see your destination from the side of the river Styx. Oceans and rivers were notoriously dangerous in ancient times because very few knew how to swim. Most sailors did not. They went down with their ship. So, a river or sea stood as a formidable challenge but, with beguiling, exotic  mysteries on the other side.

Myths explain our passion for adventure, hope for an afterlife, and our questing nature.  Painting’s do the same. They make mythology feel real. Art can invite your mind to wander into, onto and across the sea, across the river Styx. It can show you the beauties and dangers of the journey.

J.M.W. Turner knew this.  He shows us the uncertain fate of the mariner in a haze of glorious waves and weather (example 1).  Ten years after Turner’s death the Norwegian, Peter Balke gives us the threatening sea with a distant view of a cloud-born heavenly island (example 2).  How do we dare enter these waters? We do it because paintings and stories offer the opportunity of travel in our mind’s eye.

Example 1. J.M.W. Turner, a later seascape painting of Turner’s.

Example 2. Norwegian artist Peter Balke from the 1860’s.

I have a few works here which explore the notion of crossing a shifting watery plane while aiming toward a diffused mysterious light.

To reveal my process I begin with a photo, altered in Photoshop (example3). This photo will serve as my point of departure for the painting you see in example 4. At first the water is clear with only the subtlest motion. The clarity dissolves  beneath reflections and into a misty luminous distance.

Example 3, the inspiring photo as altered in Photoshop,

Example 4, the resulting painting, an oil on brushed silver Dibond.


In examples 4, 5 and 6, you see a step-by-step progression. Your eye scans this image vertically. If you start at the bottom as your raise your eyes you encounter increasing mystery, ambiguity and luminosity. The painting is 72 inches tall and 36 wide.

Example 4, Mist on the water, oil on Dibond, step one.

Example 5. Mist on the Water, step two,

Example 6, Mist on the Water, Step three and the current state of the image.

For a more serene and even more uncertain water crossing I offer my next painting, Misty Blue, oil on brushed silver Dibond, 24×36 inches, example 7.

Example 7, Misty Blue, oil on brushed silver Dibond, 24×36 inches.

Finally, I have a painting which has been radically revised.  I thought the work was not as rich with motion and as mysterious as I would like. You can compare the two stages of the work in examples 8 and 9.

Example 8, Sea Foam, original image, 24×36 inches.

Example 9. The revised painting, Sea Foam, 24×36 inches. You can see little of the original work was preserved in my effort to invest the painting with more turbulence and atmosphere.

This September we again offer online classes at  I have a selection of classes for you to choose from. Each has a different topic. You may sign up for one or all of the classes . In October we will resume our standard  three day packages of 3 Tuesdays and/or  3 Saturdays. Visit to see the menu of offerings for September’s online classes.

I want to invite you to join me for both upcoming shows and in-person workshops. On Thursday September 2nd at the Centerpiece gallery ( www.the or call at 919 948 4886 ) in Raleigh, NC. I have an opening reception from 5 Pm to 8pm for an exhibition of my works. I look forward to seeing you there.

Later in October I have in-person workshops at the First Coast Cultural Center (formerly known as the Ponte Vedra Beach Cultural Center) at 3972 3rd Street South in Jacksonville Beach (in the Trader Joes Shopping Center Complex). First there will be a 3 day workshop, “Techniques of the Masters, Water and Skies” October 28-30  9:30 to 4 pm each day. Then, on the 31st I offer “In Nature’s  Garden Workshop” also from 9:30 to 4Pm.  Contact :  or call at 904 280 0614.

Later in November I have three one-day in-person workshops in Raleigh NC at Art of the Carolinas  which starts Friday November12 through Sunday November 14 (  or call 919 878 6782).  Join me for demonstrations in oils, acrylic and watercolor with personal instruction. You can register online. Use the following codes; for Friday November  use Fr2108 for “Wild Gardens and Wild Flowers”  for Saturday the class has a waiting list for Translucence and reflections. For Sunday use SU2108 for “Sky Sea and Shore”.

I expect to be in Milwaukee on October 14 for a reception at the Lily Pad West Gallery from 9 to 5pm.











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