“RiverMuse: Civilization”


“RiverMuse: Civilization” • oil • 36hx24w


The Idea

“RiverMuse: Civilization” is the last in a series of four paintings about rivers.  In “Civilization”, I thought of the many cities that were built on the banks of rivers. This painting explores the relationship between rivers and the birth of civilization. Previous paintings explored the physical aspects of a river. “Drought”, “Flood”, and “Life” were the subjects.

Sign, Sign, everywhere a Sign

In this painting, I combined a familiar Santa Cruz landmark and a figure drawing from a live model to make my point about a river’s connection to civilizations. The Rio Theater is a movie theater and a concert venue. One day I was driving and saw the man changing the letters in the signage. Thinking this was an interesting subject for a painting, I snapped a photo through the car window. The lettering on the right was actually on the marquee. I replaced the show listings on the left with the names of rivers.

The signage on the theater and items in the display window relate to landmarks in cities built along rivers. There is a pagoda, the Eiffel tower, a pyramid, Big Ben, the Taj Mahal,  and Romulus and Remus of Rome. In the distance is a tall palm tree, fading like something from the past. In the middle ground there is a green traffic light, tall and tree-like. A no u-turn sign hangs from it. The traffic signage made me think of progress.

Her Name is Rio

The steps lead into the riverbank. There sits the RiverMuse, a witness to what is happening on the land outside her domain. Her back is to us and we do not see her face. We don’t know if she is reacting to what she is watching. Is she indifferent, sad or entertained? A popcorn container floats past her. Visually, it pulls your eye back to the composition of the painting, but, metaphorically, what do you think of it?


This painting was chosen to be shown in an exhibit called, “El Rio/The River Reflections: Celebrating the San Lorenzo”, at the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, CA. The juror for the show was Philip Linhares who was Chief Curator of the Oakland Museum of art at the time. He chose this painting out of the three I submitted. The fourth painting, “RiverMuse: Drought”, was created after the contest. Thank you for reading this, and I hope you enjoyed the RiverMuse series. I will leave you with this last poem:

RiverMuse: Civilization

Rivers and cities

Go hand in hand

Stone and steel

Mark the land

Pilgrims and progress

Take their stand

River, you witness

The ambitions of Man






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