Heaven and Earth: Digital Gallery
Professor Emeritus Joel Sheesley
Landscape paintings are gestures waved in witness to a brimming ecology illuminated as the earth spins eastward toward the sun. That earth, suspended in its orbit, is the cradle of our being. Whatever reach beyond, our origin is in its dust. By turns we both lose and ﬁnd ourselves in the landscape.
Because I am an artist I am preoccupied with how visual experience induces this loss and discovery. Beauty is not a requirement in this project, but a sense of beauty can be helpful. Discovery of beauty seems to turn on a light or open a door. If we open our eyes to that light or walk through that door, we are led to wider and wider worlds. But this won’t happen unless we claim the beauty before us.
Nothing in my history encouraged me to claim beauty in Chicago’s west-suburban landscape. I lived in Illinois for many years before I was even willing to consider it. I inhabited an abstraction called Illinois and engaged it as a functional staging ground. I did not admire the land
Fortunately even such a pragmatic outlook can move toward other levels of encounter. A lurking or dull awareness of beauty can lead us to seek the background from which that awareness springs. The land, the surrounding ecology, is that background. The closer it is examined the more one realizes that the land cannot be separated from the beauty it radiates.
As the Fox River is not itself but the sum of its many tributaries, so beauty penetrates and inheres in the world and becomes known not as itself but as landscape. Lost in beauty we may still ﬁnd ourselves in the land.