April the Cruel

Nearly one hundred years ago, T. S. Eliot wrote: “April is the cruelest month breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain.”

Anyone who has lived through brutal winters in Northern Illinois has little problem in agreeing with him. April, with its dull roots and lilacs, hides a secret: before spring rains come to visit and sunlight breathes life back into the dead land, there will be at least one more snowstorm.

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Winter Fields – Charcoal on paper – 18 x 24 inches

Of course, “dead land” and “dull roots” are figures of speech. The land is never dead; during Winter it’s just asleep under the snow. April is the edge of the blade between Winter and Spring when the land wakes up and begins to blossom again, yet again.

April Fields – Acrylic on paper – 18 x 24 inches

These three images were part of an effort to draw edges between the last snowstorm and the dull roots, hidden under dirt, before green blossoms begin to appear. The curves of the fields fascinated me, and the shapes of the snow, and the flights of the ravens. But there’s another element: In each of the drawings you can see on the horizon in the distance little rectangular shapes. When I was drawing, they looked like rows of teeth.

Ravens and Fields – Acrylic on paper – 13 x 24 inches

In the years since the drawings, the fields have been uprooted, flattened, and have disappeared under asphalt and concrete. I imagine ravens are still around because they can adapt to anything, even highways and strip malls.

As for snowstorms, two of my brothers, who still live in Northern Illinois, tell me that recent winters have never been milder.

One thought to “April the Cruel”

  1. You lead your readers/viewers in very subtle ways. You write somewhat vaguely, almost off-handedly about “little rectangular shapes,” “rows of teeth.” I wanted them to be wind breaks, tree lines that are very common in the plains of Illinois, the mid-west, in general. I wanted that, as much as anything because I expected it, having been conditioned to see what I would expect, not so much what is there.
    Now I think of your painting over the years and how a “simple” landscape often times is not so simple. There may be a river and some hills, beautiful colors of autumn, for example, but there may just as likely be a couple of old fence posts with barbed wire, electric wires over head, or as in the case of “California” (if I recall its title correctly), an ominous looking power plant in the distance.
    Back to the three drawings at hand (“Winter Fields,” April Fields,” and “Ravens and Fields”). I find an implicit sense of death and resurrection, death by virtue of the very limited palette in use and the absence of any apparent living vegetation. Resurrection in the corn stalks that promise such stalks in the year to come, and in the deep black earth that in summer will become some of the most bountiful fields in the world. We know that and bring that knowledge to the drawings. Humans eons ago apparently were never quite so sure and invented all sorts of rituals to bring the sun back to the earth for that resurrection to happen.
    But those pesky little rectangles. You tell us what those fields look like now: flattened, “mallified,” and so I understand and see that the little teeth on the horizon are the encroaching exurbia: houses.

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