The music from the party boat amplified across the bay: Provincetown acoustics invading the serenity of an otherwise empty Wellfleet beach. I was annoyed. But on reflection, it’s the perfect example of our interconnectedness. We may cling to our village alliances, but the Outer Cape is an ecosystem. A pounding baseline is the aural equivalent of leaky septic tanks. The amplification of sound over water reminds me of the currents moving sand from the Atlantic beaches into Cape Cod Bay. What happens in one place affects many others.

I’d come to Griffin Island to take some reference photographs for a commission — that is, a painting I’ve been hired to make. My three initial drawings were paintings of mid-day — crisp, vivid and blue. The commission is intended to commemorate a revelation, a shared discovery. I’m attempting to make a painting that aligns with the tenor of a story. In thinking more about the story they’ve shared with me, I’ve reconsidered the light. It should be warmer, bathed in the lower light of late day. I’m here to find pink in the sand.

As far as I remember, when as a young child my parents would bring me here to walk, we always stayed on Duck Harbor Beach. I rarely walk the beach today, instead preferring the trail above the beach — which is full of dramatic vistas. With an elevation of 75 feet, it’s a stretch of the bayside that feels like the oceanside. I’ve painted here many times. And it’s one of the places I bring friends when I want to ‘wow’ them. 

I have an ambivalent relationship with commissions. On the one hand, there’s anxiety about ‘getting it right.’ Regardless of how often I remind myself that I’m making art, the project always feels like it’s heading toward a predetermined destination. On the other hand, I very much enjoy working with the people who commission me. The process opens a conversation about their love of place and, because they’ve asked me to make an artwork, it often reflects back to me what they see in my paintings. I always learn a lot when I undertake a commission.

The people who’ve commissioned this painting have recently encountered this place that I’ve known for most of my life. The Outer Cape is relatively small, but I continue to find places that are new to me, encounter things that offer new delight. This love of place, this desire to know it deeply is what connects us. It’s certainly what connects me with the people who’ve commissioned me, but I think it’s more than that. Deep love for this place where sky, land and sea meet is what connects many of the people who believe this place to be a spiritual home. Seeing this place I’ve long known through my client’s eyes returns me to the delight I felt years ago first encountering Griffin Island. It makes me feel younger, lighter, and full of possibility. 

Field Guide: Walking & Painting on Cape Cod
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