Look up in the Sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a meshuggah capping to a dark flat landscape. The land here seems desolate, a parched thing of patches, like four or five swipes of a dry brush – first with an undercoat brown, a mix of everything on the pallet and then with yellow. While up in the sky is a dollar sign for both the rich and the poor hoping for rain, a sign of the beast for sportsmen in leather, the sign for infinity for those who actively love nothing, the treble cleft for the music of the spheres, a hydra of several heads and tails for the sportsmen to bag.
Living in the lowlands in want of hills and such, Dutch artists, when they turned to landscape, made the most of trees, steeples, windmills and sails. But when judged by how much canvas was given to it then their greatest subject was often the sky. They were the masters of clouds, and their skills in rendering and playing with clouds is honored and enjoyed. We may imagine that paintings without subjects – abstract paintings – were in part inspired or encouraged by what lowland artists did with their skies.
One of the delightful adolescent rites of summer in the Inland Empire was to visit what was perhaps for teens the most libidinous place in the Spokane River Valley, the public beach at Liberty Lake. But there my friends and I lay in the sand and looked to the clouds. We talked to the clouds, sang for them, honored them with poems that we introduced with the same lines, “Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a cloud! . . .” And from there added our inventions.