Writing on water

Last year I spent a month in Vermont exploring and responding to the wild terrain of the Green Mountains, working each day by the flowing waters and cascading rapids of the Gihon river. The month began in heavy snow and ended with the first signs of spring, as the ice flows slowly dissolved and the rivers rose up with the roar and rush of melt water.

Arriving from London with two large rolls of paper and a few drawing materials I set out to find a way of recording this parcel of time and space by interacting with the river’s alchemy, pacing out the days – sometimes icily cold, sometimes warm and wet as the season changed – with images made both with the water and of the water. Responding to this fluid encounter, as well as to its vibrant sounds, both its pulsing rush and gentle whisper, was a way to reconcile (through marks on paper) the river’s dark mercurial force and glittering surface with the mutating course of its submerged history.

‘Gihon’ – both the word and the sound – belongs not only to the physical flow of time through this passage of land (and the memories that once surrounded it) but also to a wider sea of stories, as one of the four rivers of Genesis issuing from the Garden of Eden. In the first century the historian Josephus associated the Gihon with the river Nile (the original Hebrew word may be interpreted as ‘bursting forth, gushing’), and within the turbulent streams and creeks of its North American incarnation it also brought life of another kind with the trace of gold.

The cursory markings employed as a loosely flowing calligraphic undercurrent to the river-saturated colour washes are by way of rhythmic inscriptions, ghosted signs that evoke a now indecipherable meaning. The resulting series of images (28 in all), each made in one continuous sitting and on successive days, contain their own silent language (like the empty space between words) and what remains of the drawing process in the shadowy residue left on the surface becomes a kind of writing on water.

Luke Elwes 2014


Language of the River —Lines for Luke Elwes

Rippling silver water blurs
gray and green stones below

A lone Mallard duck pecks
for grubs among shore rocks
flips its tail up in the shallows

A stick spins in an eddy
where the river veers abruptly—
moss-covered boulder

Storm swollen, the dam roars
a three-foot murky arc
white fins spraying

A white ice chunk
as big as a briefcase
stranded on a spar
of flat brown stones

Opaque slush scuds
clump and swirl
in the clear cold water

Todd McCarty 2014


The River

Morning: a white haze and gentle flurries. A thin dusting coats everything, but vanishes as it touches the water.  The river steals each flake, turning crystal into stream.  A winterblue day, the sun’s reflection skimming off the river. The river bends, brings with it: ice, a shoe, a branch broken in last night’s storm.  A journey for all things lost in the deep snows of winter.  The snow dusts the riverbanks, a farewell benediction. A hawk kills a pigeon and eats it, opening a red cavity amidst the white.  The river tumbles past, nonchalant.  The river rushes under the bridge of the old mill, the timeless cacophony as water rumbles over stone.  The ground is wet from a good rain, and the clouds mean business.  The river carries on as if it was a summerblue August day.  No texture in the sky this morning, just one long blanket of gray.  The river flows higher, runs quicker, as if to escape the last lingering days of winter.  Crunch of frozen grass under feet, sting of the morning air, a sleepy lull in the pouring of the river; the cold creeps closer with each swell.  This morning the ground is thick with snow and sleet. The sky changing throughout the day: blue, grey, cloud-spotted, stormy.  The river shifting from a clear mountain melting to a churning, muddy tempest.

Maureen C. Ewing 2014