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April 1st, 2022

My Month at The Willapa Bay AiR Residency – By James Isherwood


Beautifully situated on the Willapa Bay Peninsula in Southwest Washington State, the Willapa Bay AiR Residency was conceived of by Cyndy Hayward and opened in 2014. The site was carefully chosen for its stunning piece of land, architecturally unique private houses and studios for residents, and the surrounding lush biomass of landscape.

This was my first time traveling to the Pacific Northwest and the Pacific Ocean, roiling beyond the trees. Ensconced in this spectacular landscape, teeming with wildlife and the sounds of nature, transported my mind and body. 

Our experience was enriched by tide pool field trips, nightly walks and time and space to work. The incredible, chef-prepared lunches and dinners fed the creative souls of the group. Our cohort of three writers, two visual artists, and a singer-songwriter bonded quickly. We temporarily left our lives in California, Illinois, Colorado, New York, and Washington for our concentrated work here. 

I cannot say enough about the care and interest shown by residency Director Jeff McMahon, Chef Chris Ross, and Cyndy Hayward during our time at AiR. We were intellectually engaged and ridiculously silly. We shared and helped and went on adventures exploring this spectacular and magical place, to which I look forward to hopefully returning very soon.

My focus in the studio was a series of ten intimate 12” x 16” surreal landscape paintings on paper and three 8” x 10” paintings on birch panels. Suburban and modernist architectural protagonists, set in color-saturated landscapes, produced psychedelic atmospheres coupled with hard-edged structures floating between air and gravity. 

This is the first series of thematically related works I had begun in a decade. It felt good to have more mental structure, versus the more common intuitive aspects of the studio practice. In this regard, the works began to inform each other, then deviate, to distinguish new possibilities while adhering to the general framework set forth. 

Questioning ways to link the works, while preserving their individuality, became a challenging set of problems to work through. It altered my views of series-based work for the better. To come away with changing ideas and reinvention propels the work forward and invigorates the studio practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to have lived and worked at the Willapa Bay AiR. was a very rewarding experience I will not soon forget.