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.

PlayaPlankPanoFullStraightOn

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,

June

 

Space and Place, First Thoughts

 The Amargosa Panorama


from Fra Lippo Lippi,
by Robert Browning

…We’re made so that we love
First when we see them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;
And so they are better, painted — better to us,
Which is the same thing. Art was given for that;
God uses us to help each other so,
Lending our minds out…
This world’s no blot for us,
Nor blank; it means intensely and means good:
To find its meaning is my meat and drink.
1855


Having spent 6 weeks in February and March 2009 at the Goldwell Open Air Museum’s Red Barn (near Beatty Nevada) as a Workspace Resident, I returned in November to paint a full panorama of the space seen from the Barn doors. I had played at working the space in oils on small panels earlier, but this time I wanted to try large linen panels. I also did a small scale set of studies for the larger panels. The set above, called The Amargosa is 5 feet high and 28 feet long. The image above, photograph by David Lancaster, is the way the linen panels looked on November 30, exactly 30 days after I began cutting the rolls of linen to size.

Here are images of the individual panels:



The Amargosa, Panel 1 (east),¬† 4 x 5′,¬†
Oil on linen, 2009

The Amargosa, Panel 2 (east),¬† 4 x 5′,¬† Oil on linen, 2009


The Amargosa, Panel 3 (east),¬† 4 x 5′,¬† Oil on linen, 2009

The Amargosa, Panel 4 (central),¬† 4 x 5′,¬† Oil on linen, 2009

The Amargosa, Panel 5 (west),¬† 4 x 5′,¬† Oil on linen, 2009

The Amargosa, Panel 6 (west),¬† 4 x 5′,¬† Oil on linen, 2009

The Amargosa, Panel 7 (west),¬† 4 x 5′,¬† Oil on linen, 2009

The ¬† Amargosa, 28′ x 5′, Oil on linen, 2009

“Dancing, which is always accompanied by music or a beat of some kind, dramatically abrogates historical time and oriented space. Music and dance free people from the demands of purposeful goal-directed life….” Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place.

“The desert has no middle ground. It lacks the natural features or built structures that allow us to focus on that part of the landscape where normally our vision, hence our imagination, spends most of its time. It’s [an] example of our dissonance with the Great Basin…. the emptier the space, the less history we perceive. Without evidence of events, save those of geological occurrences mostly eons ago, we are…temporally unanchored.” William L. Fox, The Void, the Grid,& the Sign

For a couple of years now, I have been pondering, maundering, circling and scribing about space and place. These words came to the forefront of my brain with with my forays into desert “space,” attempting to render it in landscape paintings. More recently I was painting at the coast during wild winter storms and present at a trifling yet startling effect from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, an effect that set off more contemplations of the wild unknowable, implacable nature of Nature.

This post is the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series that will examine, from my point of view and, through comments, from yours, the dilemmas and questions the artist faces.

Peter Schjeldahl says “We now know, from brain science, that seeing is not a direct register of what meets our eyes but a fast mental construction that squares sensation with memory and desire: what we believe and wish reality to be.”

Looking at the two photos above, it’s clear we can name them “Desert” and “Ocean.” Some in the know might be able to further clarify: “Mojave desert” or even “North American Range and Basin.” And perhaps an oceanographer, or knowledgeable traveler might be able to say “West coast” or “Pacific Ocean.” [This last I’m not so sure of, not being an ocean aficionado; nor do I know if geographers could identify the Mojave from the information in the first photos, although it seems to me to have more information than the one of waves].

But — and this is a big but — these spaces — desert and ocean — are enormous. They cover miles of territory, disorienting territory. They can easily be without landmarks, particularly if you aren’t a “local.” We have memory and desire about the ocean and the desert, but they tend to be about a particular ocean — Atlantic City, Cannon Beach — or a particular desert scene — the sand dunes of the Sahara or the Sonoran Joshua Trees. We name these things and tame them. We see photos of them and we identify them as gorgeous or sublime:

But with that naming and familiarity comes the artist’s dilemma: how to indicate “space” without it turning into an ordinary, banal “place.”

Yi-Fu Tuan, in Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience says:

…it is doubtful whether human beings can naively apprehend the [sense of calm of the sea at rest, the exuberant energy of the primeval forest or the vastness of the endless sweep of the plains] without prior experience in the sensible forms and scale created by man. Nature is too diffuse, its stimuli too powerful and conflicting, to be directly accessible to the human mind and sensibility.

Thus the task of the landscape artist is two-fold:¬† to see something — something different, something more, something less — than that fast mental construction of convention, hope,and desire. When seeing at her best,¬† the artist may perhaps come closer to directly accessing nature — or at least the visual space — with something like “naive apprehension.”

And then, the second task, equally difficult,  is to render that seeing, render it for the viewer in a vision that  communicates the naive view, yet with some landmarks,  something to key off of, something making sense of the pigments of light and color:

JOU, Nye Beach,March 10, 2011, 12 x 16″¬† Oil on board

“Space” says Yi-Fu Tuan “is transformed into place as it acquires definition and meaning.”¬†¬† But for the artist, there’s a particular spot of visioning that, as I am understanding it, is neither Space nor Place, is neither incomprehensible nor tamed by naming and use, by memory and desire. The visioning I hope for is both startling and true to my own naivet√©.

At the same time I am contemplating Space and Place, I am also thinking about Jackson Pollock and Thomas Hart Benton and the use of of time and movement in delimiting Space. But that’s to be left for another post.

June

Bits and Bytes: Day 33, Dec. 3, 09

Yesterday, I took the day off and was playing at painting the Beatty Community Center when the silver Honda pulled up with David Lancaster and all his photo equipment. So I got to exploit the photographer. Actually he had set up and done some phtography before he found me, but at the Barn, after some mugs with the big pano, I decided to take off the tape from the panels.

You can see the beginning of the process — that’s me on the step stool.

And here are the panels, without the tape. Oh wondrous-much!

Un-oriented Amargosa, 5′ x 28′, Oil on linen, 2009

After more mugs with the panos (ho-hum — the panels are better by themselves), I further exploited the photographer by making him take mug shots of me and the desert. I understand that the competition is scarcely fair — one can’t compete with the desert. But David did his best and we had a jolly time of not being formal about the process, nor the product.

Ultimately David got serious and photographed the real subject with the incidental one standing in front:

I’m astonished at what he could capture in the bright desert sun. There’s my scene, although I’m not looking in the right direction. I kept telling him my best side was the other one, but he ignored me.

Thank you, David Lancaster, superb photographer, raconteur, and friend.

Reporting from Beatty, Nevada, at the Goldwell House, part of the Goldwell Open Air Museum.