Dateline: Mitchell, Oregon, Sept. 15, Day 10

I am aweary this evening.

But I tromped again today to the back of the outback and did another medium sized painting (18 x 24).¬† I also worked some more on yesterday’s painting from that same spot.

So here is the photo of the space I concentrated on today:

And here’s the 18 x 24″ painting:

JOU, Foliage in the Painted Hills Outback, 18 x 24″, oil on masonite

And here’s draft 2 of yesterday’s attempt:

JOU, The Painted Hills, Juniper and Sage, 24 x 18″, oil on masonite

Today I was startled by my sense of the sensuality of the hills. I arrived relatively early on the site, having hiked through the sagebrush to reach the tree where I left my gear. I sat on my painting stool, contemplating the hills while being immersed in the  dusty sage-and-juniper scents. And I suspect that those moments of sensation were what lingered when I picked up my brush.

Painting the hills here is like painting flesh. I once painted these formations as great lumbering beasts, emerging from the earth. This time they felt to me like slumbering flesh, full of mysterious shadings and crevices made for laying on of hands. It was a delight to work on that feeling, and it’s almost certainly one I can continue to enhance when I get home.

Even though I have four more days to paint, this may be the next-to-last entry of this residency journal. The last will come after I have returned home, have re-worked various paintings, and have photographed them under proper light. I have some¬† more small boards to work on here, on-site, so it’s possible there will be more paintings to come in the next four days.

However, the residencies, even this unofficial one, are exhausting for me. They have a lot of drawbacks — bad internet connections, strange beds, bad food, unfamiliar surrounds, someone else’s kitchen and furniture. Seeking out the best painting spots, dragging the cart, setting up the gear in the wind and sun, painting while thirsty and hot and dusty, and then taking all the gear down and packing it away to drive back home — well, it wears me out.

Of course, the residencies have all the seductive reasons for doing them — new territory to explore and comprehend, new visions for painterly working, new excitement and feelings of being totally alive to place and space, to sun and wind, to sagebrush and rabbitbrush and cactus and mountains ranges and iron oxidation which produce unreproducible color. I can’t speak for other artists, but the residencies, even when the results are not up to my standards, produce more and more thinking about what I’m trying for, where I fail, when and how I sometimes succeed, and what I want to continue with.

At this time, I think I have the material to work further on this unlikely space at home in Portland, thinking about how sensuality of landscape can be rendered through paint and brushstroke, maintaining the sense of the territory and its space, but making it feel like a beloved body, with all its ungainly pieces coming together to exhilarate. I have theories about bodies, too, of course, theories that don’t match the glossy botoxed models of media fame. Bodies and landscapes are better when they aren’t manicured and made to look too regular. The best landscapes, and perhaps the best bodies, are quirky, foolish at times, awkward and aged, not to perfection, but to wear.

So you see, with thoughts like that, it may be better not to maunder on for the next few days here in Mitchell, Oregon, on Piety Hill, just up from the dens of iniquity in Tiger Town down on the flats. Maundering may be better with a fresh mind.

So see you in a while, however long that takes. –June

Dateline: Mitchell Oregon, Day 9, Sept 14, 2011

Off we went this morning, behind fast striding Scott Ritner, employee of the John Day Fossil Beds and a person who knows his territory.

Scott offered to find me a painting place that was better than any I’d yet tried; he succeeded. It was heavenly. He guided Jer and I about 1/3 mile up a dirt track, where we were within two large leaps or four strides of the clay Hills. Before this guided tour, the Painted Hills existed only across a no-man’s span of badlands. So any painting or photographing that was done had to be done at a distance. But today the Hills were up-close and personal.

Moreover, the place I painted from had two juniper trees, one of which I could sit under to paint. For the last seven days, I’ve been painting in the sun, which has been brilliant and hot, 90 degrees plus. And I’ve mostly been in public places, where I was subject to dust from cars passing and the interesting but interruptive chats with other tourists.

The place Scott brought us to was out of sight of any of the regular tourist roads and trails. Jer helped me tote my stuff up to the site and then left, promising to return in three or four hours.  The space felt totally isolated, was away from all sound except for the soughing of the wind and a few birds. I sat under the juniper and smelled it and the sage,  tinged with dry dust, for about fifteen minutes, thinking I had reached paradise.

This is the tree that protected me from the blazing sun and gave me such luxuries of smell and wildlife to boot. I even saw a bright blue dragon fly, the first I’ve ever encountered.

The painting went well. When I thought I had finished, I leaned the board against the friendly tree, and, while I was waiting for Jer to reappear,  I got to look it over.

Naturally, I saw it needed improvement, and since my stuff was only partly packed, I had the means at hand to do so. I grabbed a paper towel and scoured off that offending sky, extending the hills by smearing the somewhat dry paint upward.

JOU, Painted Hills Juniper and Sage, draft 1, 24 x 18″, oil on board.

Tomorrow I will do a bit more work on this board and then work on another, same size, from a slightly different viewpoint. Scott allowed me to leave my painting gear at the site, so going back into the site will be easy, much easier than the two trips I made today. Tomorrow I will mosey up the trail at my own pace, without a bumpety cart behind. I’m hoping to leave Mitchell early in the AM. The sun, inexorably on the move, managed to remove my shade about a halr-hour too soon today. I’m hoping to outwit him tomorrow. –June

Dateline: Mitchell, Oregon, Sept 13, Day 8, starting the panorama

After fussing and circling, we returned to the Painted Hills today. I decided to do a series of panels, a version of a panorama.

The decision felt good. I am not happy with the large painting of Picture Gorge — too garish — but I don’t want to work on it until I can see it in the Portland light. And while I would have liked to paint the granary, it’s ten miles up the highway and another ten along the gravel road, too far for my chauffeur’s comfort, particularly as I would want to do several panels of the scene.

So back to the Painted Hills, looking up from below this time, facing the swoops and swoons close-up.

Here are the two panels, first drafts, that I did today. Both panels are 12 x 16″, oil on masonite.

And here they are, together, as best as I could see them in the field:

The difference in color is in part because of the difference in background and in part because the one on the left is lower than, and slightly shaded by, the one on the right. But as you can see, even the camera, taking a photo, can’t adjust for the light very well.

I wonder at times at my own temerity in showing these drafts, revealing my faltering attempts and failures. I suspect that any good advertising agency or even an ambitious friend would advise against allowing the public to see these early paintings with all their warts and muck-ups.

In some ways, though, the public exposure keeps me honest. It forces me to see, for myself, those very warts, and to work toward something better. I apologize, though, to anyone who has read this far; I’m not sure I’d want to see all my friends rough drafts. Luckily, a blog is an optional read, so you can shudder at the ‘orror, wince at the muddle, or laugh at my chutzpah. I’ll never know. –June

Oh, and Scott Ritner, a ranger here at the park whose wife we had lunch with the other day, stopped by while I was painting. He’s going to show us the “backside” of these hills, which he thinks could be good painting. I am looking forward to that; we’ll meet him at the Park in the morning.