April 19, 1917
I spent a lot of time thinking today. What am I really doing? I don’t know but I’m sketching every day. Is what I’m doing a true urgency of mission or am I doing it because my energies need to be put into something whatever that is?
We try not to talk about the War that much. It’s supposed to be so far away, but the newspapers come in everyday with stories of Germany’s impending defeat. Every day, slightly different narratives, but the same stories, nothing changes. Like the story about the two brothers, who hadn’t seen each other for seven years. They had enlisted in different parts of the country without each other’s knowledge (I don’t think they were close to begin with). And then they unexpectedly meet each other in the trenches in France. A feel-good story for the newspapers. Until two weeks later one of them gets killed. I wonder why the newspapers don’t write the story about the poor mother in Dorset who lost her three sons over the course of eighteen hours in battle. No, that wouldn’t make it into the paper.
We talk about the war, but we’re careful. Someone said in a newspaper editorial that ‘any difference of opinion should be employed fighting the enemy. There’s no need to waste fighting here.’
So what am I doing. I’m sketching. I’m drawing. I’m painting. I find it distressing that we’re fighting the very ones I drew inspiration from. The German Expressionists, their insistence on bold strong colour and harsh depictions. The North lends itself to these techniques and it was me who introduced the rest to what was here. If I hadn’t, they’d still be painting scenes of farmhouses, bland countrysides and maidens sitting on the beach.
It’s good to have a plan, but sometimes it’s better to live day by day and catch the moment when it’s appropriate. I remember in 1914 when Lismer came up to visit me for the first time, how he was shocked by the contrast of the Park to what he had known of the countryside in England. I had the same reaction: the contrast to where I grew up but not as intensely. The countryside around Leith was pleasing and pastoral but not so inspiring with rough intensity as what I see here.
Once I finish this series of sketches I think I’ll move on. The sketching should be good until later May before the bugs get too bad. It’s been a cold spring, so that should mean a couple more weeks of bug-free weather. I’ll get some guiding work for May and June and starting thinking about moving on. Most likely out to the Rockies.