Another New Year: Am I in the Present, Looking Forward or Dwelling on the Past?

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The first Monday of the New Year and I return to work. In the dim light of a cloudy day I open the door to my studio and am met by 35 paintings of the tree by the pond. I see the captured moments stretching back in time to the brisk breezes of last May, through the hot summer months and into the golden fall. When I left for winter break, the pond was at an all-time low and now is full and overflowing. Time has moved on and I am in yet another new present moment in the cold of January, in the rain. I sit and look at the paintings and feel a calm come over me. They are a gallery of green and golden doorways and I feel like I can enter each one, like I am traveling as I look at them. I can laze in the dry golden grass, nestle into the cool shadows or delight at the play of light on the water. I am comforted by the silence, stillness and permanence that these paintings offer. I feel the security of total certainty that everything will stay exactly where it is.

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Selection of Pond Series paintings in the studio, May 2015 – November 2015

and by virtue of this, each one has been made precious. On this 4th day of 2016, every day and week and month of 2015 is galloping away from me, save for these now-crystalized moments.

As I live each day my essential experience is of constant change and passage of things into the past. This is basic, reliable and obvious. Many of us feel this vividly in the first days of a new year. Optimists, romantics and children look forward, spending some of their present dreaming about the next thing, anticipating and expecting something more and better than the now. They do not mourn the time they are losing as each minute, day and year, goes by. Others fear the future and worry about it. I have heard it said that the enlightened live in the now always, experiencing time as an ever present unity. I don’t imagine they would want paintings of the golden warmth of last summer to transport them out of a dreary January day, for they experience no separation between the two. (Eckart Tolle: “Nothing has happened in the past; it happened in the Now, Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now)

But for most of us past, present and future are in fact distinguishable. So when paintings of a living moment, when the light and air and all of life is just so, are finished they become paintings of the past. Indeed, I have been hard at work painting the present, but somehow I find I have also been painting the past.

Perhaps these paintings only represent the past for me because I was there. I sweated and strained to develop skills to package that passing moment and carried it with me all the way to the “now.” My studio walls are a gallery of memories for me. When I look at the images it is a kind of reminiscence. If I sit and stare at my paintings am I dwelling in the past and thus leaving the fullness of the present? I don’t want to dwell in the past.

If you look at the paintings now for the first time they become again the present. For the fresh viewer the paintings are an invitation to experience something in the moment. So are paintings always as much an invitation to experience the “now” as they are a kind of time machine that takes us back into the past, the then? Are these paintings teaching me something about the eternal quality of the present by bringing now and then together in this way? This seems like a rather magical property. They both awaken us to and offer escape from our present. Maybe lots of things in life are like this. Maybe it is up to us to choose.


7 thoughts on “Another New Year: Am I in the Present, Looking Forward or Dwelling on the Past?

  1. This is so thought-provoking for me, Adam–time is indeed a great mystery! The scientific contributions of Einstein, Lorenz, Heisenberg, Hawking and others all offer a different lens into the plasticity and non-linearity of time, which speaks to an undivided wholeness in flowing movement and I think about that in the context of what you say here. How are we to understand the passing of time? It’s humbling to consider. But I like the idea that each one of your paintings happened in the Now, with all its attendant sounds, smells and feelings. I imagine the imprint of your deep presence in each of those moments enduring somehow in that place, adding to the meaning and good feeling of being there…


  2. Once again, your words move me to the laughter of recognition– moments saved from the pit of time, indeed. I agree that the viewer has a different experience from yours as the artist. Yes, each painting is a moment in time, but we were not there to feel the breeze, smell the leaves, hear the rustling. So each time I see the garden paintings on our walls, I have the chance to experience them in the present moment, and to put myself into that moment, in that place.

    Even these miniature representations are extremely beautiful. I can’t wait to see the series at your studio– hopefully very soon. Just imagining it is almost overwhelming. Can’t thank you enough for saving these moments with your art. Hope there is a way for many more to see these frozen moments.

    I have mentioned before the parallels between your art and my songwriting. Maybe you remember the line from my song, “The Mystery Spot”? “We’re standing where the parallel lines come together, but I don’t know if you want to go, onto the ride where moments last forever…”


  3. Thank you Adam and Happy New Year!
    This is beautifully written and sort of sums up how we might look at a series of paintings, or photos for that matter, of the same scene. For me, as I read your words, I felt more “timelessness” in that it feels like it comes down to non-attachment of “time”. On one hand I can fully enjoy the series as a “time portrait” and on the other I can feel present in the NOW and not attached to reminiscing about the past. I also notice that I haven’t been to the pond in years and, so, I found myself in the FUTURE just a bit and wondering if I might be there again, all, still, without the need to feel attached.
    You, as the creator and painter, would have a much more visceral experience of it All, it would seem to me, and so at this time of year it seems perfectly normal to have All of the feelings at once!
    “This seems like a rather magical property.” – Agreed!


  4. Adam love – These newsletters are a bit like your pond paintings and capture the moment (that you’re writing) so richly – moments of a moment – and then a whole new moment as I’m reading them. I look forward to talking about all of it when I’m back (still no baby – so I’ll be here a while more . . . but feel I at least have a bit of you with me as I wait). Love to Katy and Sabine. xx Daidie


  5. Hello Adam, your paintings are exquisite. To me it’s something about the harmonic resonance within the four walls of the picture plane that sets up a similar resonance in those who enter that makes great art, and it’s greatness lies in its timeless ability to activate that resonance, past, present and future. This idea came to me the first time I visited the Norton Simon. I think you are making great art, Adam, just sayin’!!
    Happy New Year!
    Nancy in LA


  6. In this present moment, sitting here, I am sinking into the memory of walking into your studio and seeing time at the pond as you’d captured it, flashing before me. I begin thinking about being at your pond, seeing your fast forward time warp of the pond serials and wonder if my memories of these past events are living as nerve impulses in my brain.

    Your writing is lyrical, personal and descriptive. I look forward to the future, hearing and seeing more.

    Happy new year!


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