The John Day Fossil Beds, Further Explorations

In 2006, I spent a month at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. At the time I was a long-time textile artist but a newbie painter.  My intent was to do studies in oils and watercolor and then transform these into textile art when I returned home.

It was an exciting adventure, providing an enormous lore of artistic ideas and intellectual understanding of eastern Oregon’s geology and landscape. I spent the following year, painting and stitching, and exhibited many of the textiles regionally and nationally. The paintings were mostly thrown out; larger and more ambitious ones got stored.

This month, in August 2011, needing some large canvases on which to paint, I pulled out failed fossil bed paintings, intending to sand off the paintings and re-use the canvas.

This was one I took out to be reused:

It’s a “dream-scape”, an attempt to convey something of the world I experienced during the month at the Fossil Beds. The piece references elements from the geography and geology of the region. It is also a bad painting.

I needed first to get rid of the irritating sky.¬† At a recent art opening I had been discussing the featured artist’s use of hexagons and was reminded by a friend that the basalt pillars that are a visually striking part of the Fossil Beds area are generally hexagonal in shape. With that nudge, I saw a way to transform the sky. And of course I had new¬† compositional strategies¬† (reported in an earlier post here) which could make use of verticals to move the eye around.

I was off. And this is the result:

JOU, Paleosoles, 30 x 40″, Oil on canvas, 2007, 2011

In this new version, the fracturing of the space with the hexagons and the use of the verticals is accompanied by motifs which appear at the Monument.

Being satisfied with that result, I thought I should tackle another canvas from 2007, a rendition of a badlands scene called the Blue Basin. This painting was less bad but more boring (if this distinction is valid, which I’m not sure it is).

Here’s the painting as it was “finished” in 2007:

And here it is as it appears currently:

JOU, Blue Basin, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, 30 x 40″, Oil on canvas, 2007, 2011.

Again, I inserted hexagonal motifs. I turned the canvas vertically, and in removing the sky (I may be giving up on ordinary skies) found a vertical against which to push the other elements. Here the dream-scape has none of the object motifs of the first, but it retains some of the  weirdness of  Paleosoles. The space in this painting presents very much the mouth-drying sense one has as one advances along the Foree trail in the monument.

In both these paintings, I think I have achieved something of the “feel” of my month-long experience of the¬† landscape. The weirdness of the actual badlands, both the iron oxides of the paleosoles and the blue ash outcrops, seem best realized in weird paintings.

I have another canvas from the Fossil Beds to play with as well as an almost finished painting from the Oregon coast experience. In this latter coastal rendition, I play again with ambiguous space and vertical compositional strategy. Stay tuned.


1 thought on “The John Day Fossil Beds, Further Explorations

  1. Pingback: Dateline: Mitchell Oregon, Sept. 7, Day 2 « June O. Underwood

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *