Thursday, March 20, 2014

From the Desert to the Sea

Meeting of the Waters
24" X 18"
Acrylic on Canvas

Happily, I managed to get some time in the studio over the past two weekends. As I giddily looked through photographs for inspiration, I decided it was time to move away from the desert for a spell. I needed to paint with blues and greens for a change. My urge to paint raged strong: I mentally drew the shapes of things I saw and mixed colors in my dreams.

That first afternoon, I found myself without any canvases, so I rummaged through the studio and found a reject painting that could be re-purposed. I always wonder if someone somewhere someday will x-ray one of my paintings and think, "Wow, what crap, no wonder she painted over it." In Art History, I remember a case where Michelangelo or DaVinci had painted over something and the ghost image uncovered by x-ray showed a beautiful, yet unfinished drawing. I guess when you are a Master, even your rejects are good.

This image is my favorite of those taken on a trip we took last fall. We were on Highway 1, winding our way home from Monterey, taking the scenic route. At one point, the road semi-circled around a mini-estuary, where a fresh water creek ran into the ocean. I was enthralled by the rainbow of colors, so we stopped for a quick photograph.

We didn’t stop for long. We had miles to go and the day was running away from us. It was somewhere south of Cambria and north of our turn-off at Nacimiento-Fergusson Road (say that three times), a narrow strip of dirt that rocketed up the steep grade, presenting tremendous views of the ocean before it bumped over the ridge, winding down into a deep canyon that eventually melted into rolling hills studded with oaks. This obscure route, connecting 1 to 101, ended up taking us hours longer than expected. Nonetheless, it was a delightful adventure and one of the best parts of the trip.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Canyon de Chelly


Canyon de Chelly

24" X 18"
Acrylic on Canvas

When I first saw Canyon de Chelly, it took my breath away. 

I wanted to leap out and fly over the canyon to explore every inch of it. You can feel it. It's a sacred place—filled with deep echoes of history and charged with emotional energy from the people who lived and died there.

The unexpected surprise of the canyon is part of the allure. The landscape is gentle undulating hills thick with juniper and piƱons. Along the road to the overlooks, the terrain is the same, with no indication of any change. But then, between the trees, you get a flashing glimpse of the canyon and before you can gasp, it’s gone.

The path from the parking to the overlook meanders through thick vegetation. As you round the last curve, it unfolds: a deep canyon, winding off to the west like an enormous snake. At second look, you see it has many forked branches, more like an ancient gnarled tree than a serpent. My heart swelled. I felt exhilarated and sad at the same time knowing the history of the area.

We were near a place known as "Where Two Fell Off". Long ago, Spanish soldiers attacked the Navaho people living there. Unfortunately, the men of the tribe were away, and the women, children, and elderly bore the brunt of the attack. One woman, running from a soldier, stopped suddenly, turned to the solder, and threw her arms around him—the momentum of their collision taking them over the edge to their death.

I would rather choose my death than suffer at your hand.

This scene is vivid in my head. Could I do that? Would I choose that end?

As we drive away, the canyon is swallowed up once again by thick vegetation. It's as though it was never there. How did they find this magical place? Did they stumble onto it from above? Or were they coming up out of the desert? Aiming towards the red-gold cliffs, finding this maze of deep, sheltered canyons with broad bottoms lined with thick grass and a happy creek—and plenty of crevices and crannies where they could hide from enemies. This is a good place. We will be safe and happy here. We can grow food and fat children.

I want to go back and walk on the green bottomland and smell the sage. I want to watch the hawks fly overhead and step into the deep shadows made by the hulking rock cliffs.