The Swamp Paintings

“Swamp” is a curious word. Meanings range from unsanitary places swarming with insects, to human states of mind such as feeling deluged, engulfed, or overwhelmed. In nearly every instance, though, the word invokes negative associations. We think of dirt, mud, decay, confusion.

But what if “swamp” got changed to mean fertility, discovery, possibility and mystery? I loved the contrast of the ugly word with the scenes I’ve painted in this series.

My home lies alongside a natural wetlands. Here, ancient Cottonwoods live and die amid repeated cycles of flooding and drought, and I have been a witness to the continual evolution of these trees from thriving giants, to decaying carcasses, to sun bleached ghosts.

As I painted, I began to reflect on the many layers of recalling and recording involved in the series, and so realized that my thoughts and changing perceptions are as much the subject here as are the trees, the water, the snags and the crags. And with all human thought, all human memory, there is a decision to be made: shall it be beautiful, or shall it be ugly?

In the finale to this series, the larger oils on canvas, many of the ancient Cottonwoods had by now become just a memory. They had fallen and decayed, lost to time and the elements. Here, my objective was to portray the ancient trees as they are today: ghosts, memories, faint and subtle traces of their former grandeur. And in this, I was able to discern the real subject of this series: the process of aging, decay and disintegration, and the beauty and violence inherent in these processes.

Marilyn Prescott