Nick Patten

Fire on the Water, December 2019
Oil on Panel
32 x 26 x 1 in
"However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light" -- Stanley Kubrick

Light has been the focus of my paintings for the last 30 years, so it was only natural that I would be drawn to the iconic event in my newly adopted home of Providence, RI called WaterFire. This is a happening that was created here 25 years ago. There is a river that runs through the city. Once a month during the six warm months of the year, small bonfires are lit in spaces placed in the middle of the river over the course of a mile. The event usually draws between 50,000 - 100,000 spectators on warm Saturday nights. Combined with the scents from the fires and the music that is piped in, it is a multi-sensory experience.

I made this painting at the end of 2019 before the pandemic was dominating our lives, and we were all sheltering in place. The dancing light and the symmetry of the fires were irresistible to me. In my painting, using a photograph I took for reference, I was trying to capture the magic of seeing these beacons glisten on the water, and the atmosphere created by the smoke.

This spring, as the news was getting darker and businesses were closing, events being canceled, one day in my studio while looking at this painting I had the realization that we wouldn't experience WaterFire this year. There would be no way to even consider gathering this many people together for any reason at all. The painting made me sad initially, feeling the loss of the experience, but as the pandemic grew, my feelings changed.

The motto of Rhode Island is HOPE. Now, as I look at my painting, and visually spend time there on the river, my hope grows. So too, my feelings of resolve that we will get through this, that we will prevail. My hope and my belief is that here in Providence, we will come together again to celebrate, and experience this mystical event on the river and watch the fire dance.