Friday, November 25, 2011

Blowing on the Coals

Beneath the Willows
Watercolor + Ink
9" X 12"

Coming back to a painting that's gone cold is like coming back to a plate of food after a long unexpected but important phone call has interrupted your dinner. The enthusiasm when you first sat down is lost when you return to the once appealing, now congealing meal.
Nonetheless, one has to give it the old college try—especially when you have a promising start on a piece. It's always fun to start a painting, but when time is short and you are dealing with the distractions that come with plein-air painting (like bugs, wind, and darkness), you are sometimes forced to set a piece aside before it's well established. That’s what happened here. It was cool, windy, and the sun was going down—so it was getting colder. I had to call it quits because I was shivering and my bottom was getting numb from sitting on the damp soil.

This piece was beyond cold. It was a dry, shrunken crust on the creative dinner plate. I won’t even show you the before painting, because it is so different from the result. The piece started out loose and filled with rich, warm colors. It became cooler upon my return to it—literally and figuratively. I found myself reaching back through thick cobwebs to remember the color and the value that I had not quite captured. I tried to put myself back into the mood of the place and recapture what first inspired me to sit in that spot beneath the willows at Lone Pine Creek.

I’m not sure that this painting will make the final cut, but I thought I would share it anyway. A little view behind the curtain at one of the pieces I’m not sure I would call a success. I’ll put it away and look at it again in a month or two, though it may end up in the collage pile. We’ll see.

I hope this does not portend another dry spell, because I’ve plenty of inspiring photos to work from after our recent trips. I guess I’m not sure what I want to do next. I’ll just have to head up to the studio and see where my art takes me next.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Finding the Center

When I first saw the bands of color the old ones would watch from their hilltop, I felt it in my center, a vibration of excitement just below my breastbone. I felt this was a place of important beginnings.

The landscape rolling by was a handful of sticks from my favorite box of pastels. Dusty and crisp and brilliant: red earth, dotted with velvet junipers anchored by inky shadows, glowing sage, and sun-bleached yellow grasses, lighting the rolling hills spattered with lava and sandstone. So much more than any photo or painting could ever say.

We came to the place where the old ones lived and prayed. Stone terraces where they watched the light change on the mesas and wondered if there would be enough food for the winter. Would there be enough rain?  

Only whispers of their spirits remained, though. All but a trace had been wiped away by the “new ones” in microfiber, pushing strollers, while dragging children who cried for sodas. Some of the essence had been erased by the government, who re-mortared the rocks to “mitigate liability”, thereby sterilizing the experience to make it safe for the masses.

Near the quiet end of what should have been earth, but was an asphalt skin, we escaped the new ones who didn’t want to stray too far from the parking area. It was there we found the crack in the earth. It was there, that I smelled my mother and felt her breath blow blissfully in my face.

Although bricked over and grated to protect the public from their own stupid selves, we encountered the blow hole—an opening into a deep place in the earth where a cavity  exists that reacts to barometric pressure. When the barometric pressure is high, air rushes out of the gap. When the pressure is low and the earth’s crust relaxes, the gap sucks air into the earth.

That’s the science, but for me, it was a deep, spiritual experience. I felt my mother. I smelled her. I felt her life force, her energy, her love. Not the woman that carried me into this world, but my mother, the earth. The mother I cling to that nourishes me and keeps me grounded. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Another One Behind Us

Well, we made it through another show. The lights and easels have been put away, and other than we’ll be eating leftover egg rolls for the next couple of weeks, things are pretty much back to normal around here.

There’s always a little bit of a let down when it’s all over. I’m a little lost, feeling as if I should be doing something, like cleaning or labeling, or wiping down frames or cutting up vegetables, or scrubbing bathrooms.

As I’ve mentioned, the closer we are to the show, the tighter I’m wound up. Adding to my pre-show anxiety, on Friday, the day before the show, we got three inches of snow. Yes, snow. Southern California city folk are known for freaking out about weather and we were expecting a passel of flatlanders (as we mountain folk affectionately call them). Attendance could end up being mighty skimpy.

Would they still show up? Local news was turning this little bit of early snow into the storm of the century. A news crew from one of the L.A. stations had been camped out in the grocery store parking lot for two days waiting for the storm. They kept asking residents if they thought it was going to snow. One of our local ladies responded, “Hell if I know. Ask the guy upstairs!” The reporter looked at her blankly, wondering who this guy was and where this “upstairs” place was.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded. We had a great turn out and people stayed and stayed. Just the way we like it.

Anyway, back to the show…I experienced something odd this year. I’m not one of those artists who have a problem selling my paintings. Some artists are reluctant to part with their “babies”, but I paint so darn much that I’m always running out of space. I have to sell them—or move to a warehouse—and that’s not going to happen. Of course, I have a stronger attachment to some pieces more than others, but in the end, I’d really rather share them with others.

This year was different though. I definitely felt a pang when a couple of my Mt. Whitney pieces were carried out the door. The hugeness of that entire experience had spilled out of my soul and into those paintings. The sweat, guts, anxiety, and exhilaration—plus a chunk of my heart—it was all there in the art I made.

Yet, here is the best and most amazingly cosmic part: some of these paintings were purchased as gifts for a young couple that hiked Mt. Whitney just one month before us. They too had trained hard for more than a year. It was a huge accomplishment for them too. How perfect is that?

It seems so right that so many of the pieces went to kindred spirits.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Quick Message from My Evil Twin

Domeland Sunset
9" X 12"

We are less than two days away from the show and my evil twin is here cursing and whining and growling as we prepare. This behavior will take place right up until the first guest arrives, when she (the evil one, not the guest) will magically melt away, and the sweet and pleasant me once again takes control. Because then, it’s all gravy, baby. I drink champagne, visit with long lost friends, and get to know new ones. We have fun and if I’m lucky, a few people buy my paintings.

In the meantime, in my never-ending search to overdo it and tendency to freak out about wanting everything to be perfect, I drive myself and everyone around me (Clint) a little crazy. In the end, it all turns out fine (I just keep telling myself that).

This week I had only a nanosecond of art time. Remember the Domeland Wilderness? This is one of the monoprints I did when I first returned, filled with memory and spirit of the burnt, silvery, and twisted Diva trees that watch over the Domeland.

The color was inspired by the heart-tickling sunset we witnessed the second night we were there. That day, as we hiked down from Church Dome, in the distance, bruised clouds dumped rain in a ring around us. 

When we returned to camp and started dinner, the sun disappeared and we had a spattering of rain—nothing more. As the sun dropped, peeking between the cloud layer and the horizon, the world filled with orange and violet light. Occasional flickers of lightning backlit the trees.

We rushed out to the open meadow to watch the show. Then, the clouds shifted and a lavender rain shower veiled the sun, which still cast its brilliant color further west where the clouds had cleared. We watched the light and color show until dark and tramped back to camp to sit by the fire—until the moon rose (that’s another story).

It had to be one of my top ten best ever sunsets.