We wound our way through the outer edges of Durango, past houses framed by woods and snuggled up to sweet meadows gone golden, where deer gave us just a glance, and dropped their heads once more to graze quietly.
We were ooo'ing and ahhh'ing and dreaming—as usual—about winning the lotto and buying a place with some land around it. There would be a really big garden for me, and a workshop for Clint. Maybe some chickens and a few goats.
The road took a sharp bend and rose over an old stone bridge softened by lichens in every shade of green. A plaque declared gold had been discovered there a long time ago. The road found the highway and we headed north to Silverton.
The road between Durango and Silverton is a picture postcard the entire way. We’re talking a John Denver song kind of landscape. The mountains tower over thick stands of pine and aspen; a creamy fondant of snow covers all but a little of the ground and ridges. The exposed rock and patches of soil are a warm and rich contrast in the morning sun.
I have never seen aspens bunched as thickly as those we saw along this road: straight, smooth, and bright, with warm halos of tiny naked branches, dense as hair. I imagined the trees in spring, an intense swath of green, glowing against the red and gold earth.
The shapes of these mountains are very different from the ones at home; stacked plates of sandstone, instead of shards of schist. These are old mountains that have seen many things and have many stories to tell.
How do you take something that grand and postcard-like and paint it so it’s new? How do you transform it from a Scenes-of-America calendar image or set it apart from the “Great Photos You Must See” e-mails?
I can't tell you how many paintings of aspens I saw in Colorado and Arizona; and they all looked the same. I know I’ve painted “the aspens” in the same way. But, once you’ve done that and gotten it out of your system, it’s time to move on to new ways of expressing things that have been painted a billion times in the same way—that is if you want to grow as an artist.
There are plenty of artists who find a theme that appeals to the masses and proceed to paint the same subject over and over—simply because they can sell the crap out of these cookie cutter paintings and make millions (treacle-y storybook cottages with glowing windows and heavy-bodied Native American women studying pottery come to mind).
As for me, I’m still working on that puzzle—growing as an artist, not painting cottages—and probably will be for the rest of my life.
When I approached this subject, I decided to break the larger image into four small canvases (5" X 5"). It’s a quadtych. Kind of like a diptych, only doubled. I wanted to make each painting stand on it’s own AND work as a unit. I know it's a little hard to see here, and they need a few finishing touches, so you'll just have to come to my next show to see the final result. What do you think?