The Plank Paintings: Playa, September 2013 — January 2014

Plank2The “Plank Paintings”, more formally known as Summer Lake from Winter Ridge, has long been finished. I wrote about it earlier, under the rubric of The Project from Hell.

I finished the last coats a bit more than a year ago, and I recorded much of the process along the way. Then life intervened and I never got the panels photographed. Finally, however, I finally got the finished paintings lined up for photography is my new studio.

The panorama is 1 foot high by 16 feet long, oil on cedar planks, painted in 2013, 1014. More specifically, the substrate consists of eight 12 x 24 inch planks, harvested, with the help of the talented Rachel Streeter, from old building that sat on the land where the Playa Foundation was built. Playa, the Foundation, is located on Summer Lake, near Paisley, Oregon, in the far southeastern quarter of the state.

AcrossThePlayaFromRidgeWLA “playa”, as a geologic feature, is a lake which has no outlet to the ocean. The most famous one in the U.S. is perhaps Death Valley. The Amargosa, across a mountain range from Death Valley, where I painted in 2009, is a playa. Summer Lake sits at the northern edge of basin and range country, and forms its own playa, with Winter Ridge rearing above it.

The paintings were something of a challenge, beginning with raw wood that needed to be sanded and primed with an oil medium.

PlanksRawWlThen the planks were lined up on the wall, with various versions of the Summer Lake Playa, photographed panoramically, above and below:

PlanksAndPhotosRawWLOnce the horizon was established on the paintings, according to my physical sense of that sky and earth, I could start painting. Each painting was lined up with the previous one (although I started from the center, of course).

planksProcess2WLThe red line on the plank above was my original idea of the horizon. It got adjusted as I painted.

My desire was to capture something of the sweep of the playa as seen from above, on Winter Ridge, during a bright September day.

Here’s a photo of the finished panorama:

PlayaPlankPanoFullWLSummer Lake from Winter Ridge from the left, 1 foot by 16 feet, oil on cedar planks, 2013/2014.


Summer Lake from Winter Ridge, the Panorama, 1 foot by 16 feet, oil on cedar plank, 2013/2014

Below are photos of the individual planks:

#1PlayaPlankPanoWLPlank 1, Summer Lake to the south.

#2PlayaPlankPanoWLPlank 2, Summer lake to the southeast.

#3PlayaPlankWLPlank 3, Summer Lake to the southeast

#4PlayaPlankPanoWLPlank 4, Summer Lake to the east.

#5PlayaPlankPanoWLPlank 5, Summer Lake to the east.

#6PlayaPlankPanoWLPlank 6, Summer Lake to the northwest.

#7PlayaPlankPanoWLPlank 7, Summer Lake to the northwest

#8PlayaPlankPanoWLPlank 8, Summer Lake to the northwest.  To state the obvious, I was painting from the west side of Summer Lake, on the eastfacing side of Winter Ridge itself.

Below are the two center panels, 4 & 5, plus bits of the ones beside them:

PlayaPano4,5PlusWLThese panels were the culminating work from a short residency at the Playa Foundation, during the fall of 2013. The planks were courtesy of the Foundation, and it was actually Rachel, musician, tile setter, and finder of wood and energy, who provided the ambition and tools to move me along on this rather ambitious project. I used the grain of the raw wood to guide the earth images, allowing any imperfections in the boards to remain. The challenge of finding the nuances within the playa, sand and sky, was almost equal to the challenge of preparing the wood. And of course, I feel in the panorama a kinship with that glorious land of southern Oregon, a place of blazing beauty and tough conditions.

Written in January 2015, from NE 86th Ave,



"Finished" Done, Complete, Replete, the End: Nov 30, 2009

I have declared the big linen panorama “finished.” Note the quotes. I almost never finish a work until it has sat and thought for a while. And until I have sat and looked for a while. However, we will hold an Open Studio next Saturday, pack up the Studio Sunday, pack up the house after that, and wend our leisurely way back to Portland, Oregon, avoiding winter storms as much as possible. The panels should be dry enough to roll and transport by next Sunday. I don’t dare add another stitch of paint until we are back home.

So here are the seven panels. Tomorrow Jer and I are going down the Beatty Cut-off to Death Valley, where I’m going to paint landscape in proper perspective with proper coloring and properly conventional notions. When we come back, weather and desire permitting, it’s little hamlet-scapes around Beatty; I still have the Community Center to deal with, and I would rather like to paint that Joshua Tree with its big rock and 5 huge satellite dishes.

David Lancaster may be able to come up from Vegas this week with proper lights and get some good photos, but these will have to do for the nonce. Sometime later this week, I will try to add photos which combine the pieces, so you can get a sense of the panoramic scope. And I might even make comments. But tonight, it’s just each panel, one at a time, photography by JOU. And no journaling until I get combos photographed, which will be sometime before Sunday. No promises beyond that.

Unoriented Amargosa, Panel 1 (east) 4′ x 5′, Oil on linen, 2009

Unoriented Amargosa, Panel 2 (east) 4′ x 5′, Oil on linen, 2009

Unoriented Amargosa, Panel 3 (east) 4′ x 5′, Oil on linen, 2009

Unoriented Amargosa, Panel 4 (center) 4′ x 5′, Oil on linen, 2009

Unoriented Amargosa, Panel 5 (west)) 4′ x 5′, Oil on linen, 2009

Unoriented Amargosa, Panel 6 (west)) 4′ x 5′, Oil on linen, 2009

Unoriented Amargosa, Panel 7 (west)) 4′ x 5′, Oil on linen, 2009

Of course, the titles with their directions are “oriented”, making a veritable lie of the rest of the title.

And I should, for the sake of the record, add that some of these panels (the ones in the center)¬† went through 3 versions today, and many before that. I had one version done when Jer showed up. He took a walk and I saw other things to do to those panels, and when he came back, he had further suggestions that were quite good and so had to be dealt with.¬† I had previously revised the panels after hearing Suzanne and Charles’ suggestions (all of which I took, albeit perhaps not quite as they imagined). David Lancaster may be able to come up from Vegas this week with proper lights and get some good photos, but these will have to do for the nonce.

So look and look again, at the desert, at the canvas, at your mind, at your paints. And then look again.

When we left, after sunset tonight, the Desert Flower sculpture which lies in the Barn’s yard was shining in the waning light while the almost full moon was glistening above. It was glorious and heart-breaking.

Reporting on the last day of November on the last day of the big project painting from the Goldwell House, run by the Goldwell Open Air Art Foundation, in Beatty, Nevada, home to Beatty Mountain and the Beatty Merc. And an almost full moon tonight.

Diary of a Residency, days 41 & 42, March 29, 2009. The End

The final day at the Goldwell Open Air Museum’s Workspace Artist in residency:

From this:redbarnemptygallerystudio

To this:


And this:

studiofinalnorthwallw1And this:

studiofinalnortheastwallwAnd this:

studiosouthwestwallwI took almost no photos the last two days; during exhibits I always think I will take lots and then, as I’m talking and greeting and hugging, I forget. I even forgot to get photos of Suzanne and Charles and Sammie today, which is shocking.

I did get a photo of John, who as one of the regulars at the Barn wandered in from time to time or stopped to chat me up while I was plein airing out on the desert: he was first to the Open Studio, and so I was still in my remembering-to-photo  mode.

studiojohndreamwThat’s Dream, his greyhound on the floor. She isn’t really impressed by paintings but decided I was OK. John bought the very last painting I did, Zabriskie Point. I would have liked to have brought that home with me, but I also am pleased that it was he who bought it.

Here’s someone whose photo I remembered to take at just about the same time — Jer was talking to John, so I caught him looking very like his skeptical self:

studiojerwThe painting in back of him is one that is coming home with us.

Here’s a photo taken by Pam Brekas, who visited and insisted not only on taking the picture but on emailing it to me:


So here are the final stats of the Goldwell residency. 27 “successful” paintings done; 5 discarded, for a total of 32 paintings over 42 days. Two were over 50 x 50″; two successful ones were 18 x 36″ (and two failed ones were also 18 x 36″¬† — hey 50% ain’t bad), three were odd sized canvases (including 2 bad ones), and the rest were either 18 x 24 or 12 x 16″. All the boards, 12 x 16″, 18 x 24″, and 18 x 36″ were done plein air. 5 paintings were done on canvas, in the studio, unstretched. I’m taking home the two big unstretched canvases and one other. I did far more landscapes than Beatty-scapes, which I did not expect. But the landscape cried out for being looked at, again and again. So I did. And then I painted it, again and again, — the playa 4 times; the Beattie Mountain 4 times; Golden Canyon/Zabriskie Point 3 times, Bullfrog Hills at least twice. Sometimes I found myself dreaming of the great hills around the Red Barn, with its enormous expanse of space to the south.

I worked intensely every day except a couple after I finished the¬† big paintings and the last four days, visiting Titus Canyon, entertaining Lia and Bo, and getting ready for the Exhibit. I don’t think I ever worked as intensely at art as I have these last 42 days.

About 60 people showed up for the Open Studio yesterday, and this morning, George and Carrie Radomski, as well as Suzanne, Charles, and Sammie showed up. So we had a good chance to chat with the people we came to know best on this last full day we have in Beatty.

Working by myself, out in the desert air, I had a lot of time to contemplate the human left-overs on an indifferent landscape. The desert doesn’t get rid of human detritus, and so a different kind of history remains than one sees¬† in wet climates. The desert holds the junk, almost indifferently. You often can’t see the human elements until you walk the landscape, unless, like the mine tailings, the very rock has been violated. But if left alone for 100 years, perhaps even that will disappear, looking like part of the rock from which it was drilled. Left alone, the place feels like an ancient, calm, deserted ruin, governed by an extraordinary force of sun and heat and wind and flash floods.

Tonight the wind is howling. A dust storm has blown up and a day that began as calm and beautiful as a dream has turned into an unforgiving blast. It’s not cold, which is even more weird to we outlanders. It’s time to go home to Portland, when, if the wind blows like this, it blows rain, not dust, and it will be cold outside, not warm. And at this time of the year in Portland, it’s showering flower petals, not dust. Going home, I’ll have to readjust my eyes and palette, but after living in the desert for 6 weeks, it’s likely that everything will look new and strange to me. This is an added bonus, because I paint better when I’m confronted with what appears new and strange.

Thank you Goldwell. Thank you Richard and David. Thank you Charles and Sammie. Thank you Maria. And thank you, Suzanne, for all the support you provided.

The experience enhanced my eye, expanded my breath, fulfilled a longing for space, and, perhaps, even improved my painting. It also made me love the desert and hope to be able to return.

Next: The After-words