It Was A Dark and Stormy Day: Day 28, Nov 28, 2009

Well, it wasn’t exactly dark — just amazingly, wondrously, hideously, wildly stormy. I’d add more adjectives, but Jer won’t let me. It was also teeth chattering cold, but I couldn’t resist having the big barn doors open to watch the sky and desert as the storms came and went.

I was at the Barn at the usual time today. There were tourists everywhere, including a couple of trailer-campers on the other side of the road. I guess these were holiday-seekers who didn’t want to pay to park their rigs. People kept dropping in to see the art — Riley McCoy, the museum volunteer, was sending them along. He stopped by while a couple from the LA area were being chatted up by David Lancaster and I was chatting up the other David (Berg), a board member who was helping David L. work on the cistern. Riley handed me a bagful of fresh strawberries and the wind and rain started.

So when people weren’t pulling up out front, I played my new flute (more on that another time) and thought about painting. I didn’t actually think much; I mostly thought about thinking. And I played my flute. And someone else would pull up to get in out of the rain, which wasn’t actually hitting the ground, only the roof. Between the talk, the flute and the jingling of the tin roof, it was fairly exciting.

About 2 PM things settled down, so I decided to work on some easy stuff — the plein air panels I did a few days ago.

Here’s the back of the McCoy’s house, which was the Episcopalian Church. It’s the back of the house because I was painting in the afternoon and the house faces east. All glare and deep shadow on that side. Besides, looming over the back of the house is a honking big sign for Motel 6, next to the Casino up the road aways, and that tickled my sense of wacky hamlet-scapes. So this is today’s version, a second draft:

The McCoy’s House, Beatty Nevada, 16 x 12″, Oil on masonite 2009

I also updated the Beatty Library a bit:

Beatty, Nevada, Public Library, 16 x 12″, Oil on masonite, 2009

It’s absolutely typical of my wacky hamlet-scapes, perhaps because I’ve been painting landscapes too long. They get wackier as I get further out of practice.

That didn’t take long, so I decided to take on another painting I did outside in the warmth (now dissipated entirely, it seems) of last week.

The Phoenix Motel (missing its trees), draft 2, 16 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2009

This one needs the mountain to glow more; it was painted about 4 PM and the motel was in shadow while the mountain was playing on my eyeballs. But it’s coming along.

I couldn’t bring myself to upgrade the Chamber of Commerce Building (another view of the Beatty Mountain included); the wheeled vehicle seemed too hard. So I started in on a semi-abstract (think Maynard Dixon with no horses or humans) that I had been working on last week. I’m liking the change of pace –less detail:

Salt Flats¬† near Beatty Nevada, 16 x 12″, Oil on masonite, 2009

I had just begun on the far mountains when Jer appeared, so this too will get a bit more attention.

I couldn’t face the big canvases today, but tomorrow I will be brave and valiant and true-hearted and strong. Besides they must be painted so they can dry before they get carried home. And Charles fixed the spot lights so I can see to paint more better as well as to photograph better (probably more, too). With any luck (send good vibes this way) I’ll have them done within a day or two.

On the way home, I made Jer stop so I could take this photo of the continuing storm.

I thought all those painters who showed the sunlight streaming from the clouds were making it up <snort>

Reporting from Goldwell House, which is much warmer and cozier than the Red Barn, even if the scenery is less spectacular.

Another Direction: Day 23, Nov. 23, 2009

Where do I start? One day is much like another, only different, and each day seems to bring new revelations. At least each does when I’m paying attention.

This morning, I worked over that central panel, again. I realized that, as it was painted, it looked as if a gap existed between the mountains — where none in reality exists. That’s because I was painting those north facing mountains that are so hard to see. They basically got slopped into some sort of shape, but not really observed.

So, I got to do my dance from wall to door to wall to door, dripping paint as I sallied forth, again and again and again. In the end (about noon) I was satisfied at last that what I’ve been calling The Long Slope, which never shows its definition, was about as good as it would get. I had properly closed the gap in the center panel, which shouldn’t have been there to begin with.

Linen Panel #4, November 23, 2009

But more important than dealing with the mountains was another insight crept slowly but surely into my consciousness as the morning progressed.

Late yesterday Jer and I drove west on a gravel road that ultimately turned north. We were driving along the Bullfrog Hills, which jumble themselves crossways between the big ranges, Bare Mountain and the Grapevine Range.  These are the hills that cuddle Rhyolite, the ghost town up the road, and one of which is directly behind the Red Barn studio. They continue, in a kind of informal, helter-skelter way until they  bump into the Grapevine mountains, the range that runs pretty much north and south along  Death Valley.

I was tired and not paying much attention to the scenery, when Jer stopped to take a photo. As I sat looking out the front window of the car, I suddenly realized I was seeing what was, for me, totally new and unknown territory, the kind of thing that can give a tired mind a bit of frisson, a little anxiety about being way out beyond the known. I got out of the car then and looked back down the road we had traveled for the last half hour. There was the whole of the Amargosa Valley, looking the same as ever, just like it did when I stood in open doors of the Barn. Oh there were some differences I could count up, but really, after going far west and far north, we were still in the Amargosa Desert.

Which brings me to my revelation. While the Amargosa Desert and the Amargosa Valley converge down around Beatty, the Amargosa Desert goes north and west, staying between the Bare Mountains and the Grapevines until it bumps into the Bullfrog hills. The Amargosa Valley, however, with its trickle of a river, has come directly from the north through the gap between the Bullfrogs and Bare Mountains. It has its origins in Oasis Valley, coming out the Timber Range, farther east than the Bare Mountains.

The desert is a much bigger, more open, vaster space than the valley. The far right panels of mountains that I had been painting were still very much a part of the desert that is seen in the first, far left panel; the valley only exists in the first two panels.

What this did to my head — and hence to the painting — was make me realize that I had to pull that desert sense clear across all the panels — not just allow the mountains to draw nearer but to continue the desert fully into the space. The Red Barn does not exist at the head of the Amargosa Desert, although it’s close to the head of the Amargosa Valley.

So, with this insight becoming more and more clear to me, I recognized how I could deal with another problem that had been bugging me. The panel (#2) with the gap in the mountains where the Amargosa River goes through them¬† had been painted early and was a pretty good panel. Too good, in fact. Its brightness drew the eye in ways that I didn’t want but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything about. I didn’t know what I would do with that panel if it didn’t go so glowingly into the distance:

This is Linen panel #2, November 20, 2009

And here’s the change that I made to it:

Linen Panel #2 November 23, 2009

What I want is for the desert to go west, not south. So here’s something of what I did with the panels to the west of #2:

Panels 2, 3, 4, and 5, November 23, 2009

Another view:

Panels 2, 3, and 4, November 23, 2009

My hope is to push the color west (right) instead of having it pull the eye totally into the center of panel 2. That will (I say, crossing my fingers) pull the viewer’s eye across the panels rather than stopping with panel 2. Moreover, the flatness of the center panel (more mottled than yesterday but still without much depth) makes sense as a flat desert “void,” not trending much of anywhere. Just there. The color will continue on, but the width of panel 4 flattens the space.

Linen Panel #4 November 23, 2009

I’m not sure this is making any sense to anyone but myself. But recognizing the difference between the vastness of the desert and the small part of it that makes up the valley made me see the space that I was painting differently. Driving along the Bullfrog Hills, into territory that looked totally unlike any I had seen, and then looking back at the absolutely familiar space of my quotidian told me that I had been painting as if I were the center of the universe. Now I’ve know, viscerally, that the universe of the Amargosa Desert goes far beyond me and my eyesight. So should my painting give, at least hints, that there’s more.

And of course, More Must Be Done. Reporting from Goldwell House, Beatty, Nevada.

And a postscript:¬† to be fair to my own inaccurate perception, I grew up in the Susquehanna Valley beside the Susquehanna River, and I now live in the Willamette Valley, 14 blocks or so from the Willamette River. These Valleys are distinct entities, carved, in part, by their rivers. The Amargosa Desert was created by the earth pulling the continent apart; the water that drifts down part of it just happened to find a low spot and sink there, temporarily. It reappears at the south end of the valley, makes a sharp turn north, and sinks, permanently, into Death Valley. Unoriented space, that’s what I calls it.

It's Raining!: Day 12, Nov.12, 2009

I didn’t know what the sound was, except that it was extremely strange. The Red Barn, with its tin roof and its kangaroo rat and its tarantula and occasional bird often harbors strange sounds. But this, well, this, this sounded like rain. Pitter patter rain, on a tin roof.

And so it was.

AlmostRainNov12FixedWEarlier in the day, a Nye County law enforcement fellow drove up and turned around in the Barn’s gravel parking lot; our conversation was as it should have been. “Hi.” “Nice day” “Looks like rain” “Really?” “Look at the sky.” “Oh.”¬† “Have a nice day.” He was just doing a drive-by check in and never got out of his car. But I’m blaming the rain on him. Otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed.

The early part of the day was warm and sunny enough to change out of my vest and turtle neck into a short sleeved shirt. I wandered around, found a rock for my growing Rock Road, and put it down, thinking as I did that David would like the pink rocks that are to be found everywhere here. They don’t translate in my camera very well, but I’m drawn to them too.

RockRoadWHaving wasted all the time I dared to, I started the final masonite panel, small, of course, because I don’t have more than a couple of tablespoons of Liquin.

It’s rather fun at this point to line up the panels. And working inside rather than outside, as I was in Diamond, Oregon, makes the lining up easy.

BoardPanel567Nov1209wThe brown panel in the center is how the panels all started. I could have gessoed them with white or some other color, but decided that working with that color would emulate the linen color I was going to work with. This is how I began the day’s session — panel 5 was done yesterday. Panel 7 (on the right) was done very early on, perhaps a week or more ago. So this morning, panel 6 was to be inserted.

Except for panel 7, panels 4, 5, and 6 all have north facing mountains. They are the very dickens to discern in any detail. These are the mountains that change form when you walk from one side to the other of the studio doors; at first they seem mostly blue shapes, but if you keep looking, you see shapes inside the shapes, and it finally dawns on you that it isn’t a mountain range; it’s mountains, in front of and behind, other mountains. It can drive the obsessive a bit crazy. Luckily I’m not quite that obsessive. Or maybe I’m crazy enough already.

ViewGrapevinesWThis is basically the view I see when I look west from the Barn doors. The crumpled clump of mountains at the far right in the photo are the furthest northwest I will go with either panorama. They are somewhat visible. particularly in the early part of the day. The rest are theselovely amorphous colors and shapes, out of which I am determined to find panels 5 and 6.BoardPanels67usualStartupswOf course, I didn’t take a photo of 5 and 6, but rather of 6 and 7, just to show one stage in the development of the painting. Panel 6, on the left, is the last panel to be painted, and it is at its ornery stage, where no more paint can be attached until it gets good and tacky.¬† It also, alas, reveals the dilemma of the ratio mis-match, but no more will be said of that.

LinenPanel1to5Nov1209wBy the time I left, there were masonite 12 x 16 inch panels to accompany all seven of the 4 x 5′ linen panels. I know, I know, there are only 5 here. But linen panels 6 and 7 still await the arrival of that Liquin medium. I painted a bit more with mineral spirits, but they are of limited usefulness.

Then Jer showed up, the rain hit the roof, we looked at each other in wonder, and then we meandered down the road. I regaled him with tales of county sheriffs and he recounted Wikipedia stints. And the sky continued to sound and look like rain. I’ll admit — I never felt a drop, even while locking the three locks on the studio door and marching to the car with my empty water jugs in hand.

RainEveNov1209wReporting from Beatty, Nevada, where a minute ago, rain sounded again. But now it’s gone. Tomorrow morning I’ll have to investigate the Amargosa River, just half a block away, to see if there’s any water in it.