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 6, Sept 11, 2011

Today Jer went to Paulina, Post, and Prineville, where he got milk and cereal and gas. I stayed at Hollyhock Cottage and worked on the three partly finished paintings.

Here are the paintings, in the order of today’s workings:

JOU, Basalt Formations at Picture Gorge, Sept 2011, 30 x 40″, oil on canvas

JOU, The Painted Hills, 2011, 18 x 24″, oil on masonite.

JOU, The Hills at the Painted Hills, 2011, 12 x 24″, oil on masonite

The first large painting appears too dark on my laptop, but I can’t trust this kind of screen for accurate color. So if it looks too dark, we know where to place the blame. The leaves on the bottom left of the painting are exotic terrain, introduced by actual leaves that the painting got placed behind.

Tomorrow we will go off in search of something else to paint. Surely there will be something:-) June

Dateline: Mitchell, OR, Picturing Picture Gorge, Sept 9, Day 4

After I posted yesterday’s journal, I decided to work more on the paintings I had started earlier in the day.

During the morning session, in addition to working further on the long narrow 12 x 24″ piece, I had hurriedly used up the paints on my palette¬† as Jer hiked up the trail toward me. So I had the reworked narrow painting plus a more rectangular panel, 18 x 24. The 18 x 24 was basically a bunch of fast smears. However, when I pulled it out of the box back at the cottage, I liked the looseness of the smearing.

The Painted Hills, September 2011, draft 1, 18 x 24″ Oil on masonite

The feel was right but the crude thin layer of paint needed work. As dusk descended over the cottage, I layered over this first smudgery, resulting in the painting below, an improvement in which I managed to keep the looseness of the first draft.

JOU, The Painted Hills, September 2011, draft 2, 18 x 24, oil on Masonite

This needs more work, both compositionally and in its detailing. But dusk was drawing nigh, and I was looking with dismay at the other painting that I had reworked in the AM. It looked like this:

The Painted Hills, Sept 2011, 12 x 24″ oil on Masonite

In the cooler light of evening, the reds, which seemed muted in the blaze of the desert sun, suddenly became much too much. Elizabeth Barton and the traditional guidelines for color were absolutely correct — the rather even mix of warm and cool colors did not work.

So, having a violet already mixed on my palette, I turned on the porch light and smeared the titanium white/ultramarine violet over the red bits:

JOU, Painted Hills Sept 2011, 12 x 24″ draft 2, oil on Masonite

Obviously I smeared a bit elsewhere too. This is more like the effect I want, so now that I know what has to be done, perhaps on the next draft, I’ll be more successful. There was no time and no energy and no light to continue last night.

This morning we got up at the crack of dawn (did you know that dawn cracks like a rifle shot out here in Mitchell?) and drove the 45 miles east on Route 26 to Route 19, where the primary exhibit space and science labs (the Condon Center) of the Fossil Beds is located. As you approach Route 19, you drop through a canyon, Picture gorge, carved by Rock Creek. The canyon is lined with hexagonal basalt columns, leaving just room for the narrow two lane road and the stream. Route 19 goes left off Rt 26, following around the end of Picture Gorge. It was there at an interpretive pull-off that I sat up my gear.

This is the approximate scene I painted, on the largest canvas we can fit into the Honda, 30 x 40″. (Actually, if the canvas is unpainted we can squeeze in a 36 x 48, but a naked painted canvas is not allowed in the Honda, and the carrier reduces the space available. So 30 x 40 it is). It took me three hours to cover the canvas with paint. Luckily, the shapes are simple as are the colors, at least in this initial scene.

The canvas threatened to blow down the river, so I removed my camera from my belt, using the belt to anchor the canvas stretcher bars to the easel, which I snugged up against the Park Service’s railings. That held everything secure against the morning breeze, a wind which I yearned for as the sun got higher and hotter.

At the appointed time, Jer returned, and after we reinserted the canvas into its carrier and the whole package into the Honda, along with the cart and all the other gear, we checked out the book store at the Condon Center (alas, a rather meager selection), chatted with some old acquaintances from my 2006 residency there, had a picnic lunch, stopped at the Kimberly Fruit company for our farm-fresh peaches, got gas in Spray (the gas pump in Mitchell is operated erratically), ate an early dinner at Service Creek, and wound our way home over Oregon Route 207, through the Ochocos, south to Mitchell. I took a  badly needed shower and crashed on the couch. It seemed like a fruitful but exhausting day.

I forgot to take a photo of the morning’s work; I might remember tomorrow morning. We’re going back even earlier¬† so the photographer (the real photographer, I mean) can capture more spectacular scenes in a different light. And the painter can get an earlier start, when the sun won’t be quite so ferocious.

Oh yes, my favorite sign in the Park is a rattlesnake alert:

Everyone at JODA (the Fossil Beds)¬† sympathizes with the rattlers. –-June