“RiverMuse: Drought and the Lungfish”


“RiverMuse: Drought and the Lungfish”, oil on canvas, 24hx36w

This painting is from a series of paintings I did about a river. The inspiration for the series was a call to artists from the local art museum in Santa Cruz, CA. The show was called: “El/Rio/The River River Reflections: Celebrating the San Lorenzo”. I created three paintings and was accepted into the show. It was juried by Phil Linhares, who at the time was the chief curator of the Oakland Museum of Art. This painting is the fourth in the series. I was so inspired by the idea, I continued to paint this last one after the competition.

Scoping out the river.

You would think a series about a river might lead an artist to think, “Landscape Painting”, and I did. First thing I did was check out an area along the San Lorenzo, which runs through downtown Santa Cruz. Standing there I concluded: I wasn’t safe, the river had shopping carts in it, and there was no way I was going to paint this. It was time for plan B.

Going back to my studio.

Wanting very much to enter this competition in my home town, I thought there must be another way to translate the idea of a river on canvas. So, I went back to my studio while thinking… a river is a body of water, let’s develop some figure drawings into paintings with this thought. I thought about how a river might affect people. The ideas:  A Provider of Life, Flood, and the Connection Civilizations to Rivers came to mind. Those are what I entered in the show. I’ll tell you about the others and the one that got included in another blog, stay tuned… A month after the contest, I felt like something had been left unexplored. Then it hit me that I forgot about Drought.

Save your drawings!

All the the ideas used my figure studies. If I like any element of the drawing, I save it. Some of the drawings were from several years back. The drawing for “Drought” was one that had been filed away for about a year. Her pose helped create the rest of the painting composition. She needed to be resting on something other than the pillow in my drawing. So, I substituted a rock. This lead me to put her on the banks of the river. (In the other paintings, figures were actually in the river completely.)

Inspiration is everywhere.

Since I put her on the banks of the river, I decided that the ground should be dry and cracked. I looked up all sorts of hot and dry spots around the globe using the internet and books. The lungfish…where did that come from? The local pet store actually had a lungfish in a tank. A lungfish has both gills and primitive lungs. During droughts, it crawls from one mud hole to another until the rains come again. (Look it up. I remember seeing it an episode of Wild Kingdom as a kid.) The lungfish sold, or slithered away, before I could draw it at the store, so I had to rely on reference photos.

Drought is here in California.

Since my home state has been incredibly dry at the time of this writing, I decided, it was a good time to post “RiverMuse: Drought and the Lungfish”. The lungfish for me added a bit of hope. The fish is expecting it to rain and Nature found a way for it to survive. In the painting, clouds are overhead.

Poem: Drought and the Lungfish

River, your bed is cracked and dry

No longer the haven

For those that loved you.

You wait patiently

For the rains to come,

While you watch your lovers

Adapt or perish.


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