Petrified Forest Residency, Almost Finished: Oct. 16, 2010

October 16, 2010: Last painting finished in the Petrified Forest.

Yesterday we toured Holbrook, where we “did” Jim Gray’s Rock Shop, a serious classic of its kind, checked out the Museum Courthouse, walked through and photographed the Centennial Historic Register District, and got home by 1 PM. Oh and we had a Dairy Queen.

Then I laid out my paintings to see if the scheme I had come up with earlier had been fulfilled:

These are by no means all the paintings, nor is this the final arrangement. I was just checking to see if I had filled in the gaps. Which I had.

A bit closer look at the top and bottom of the set. There are some paintings that I’m fond of that aren’t here, so the final grouping will probably be different. And I might just decide to frame and exhibit them in a nice measured row so that the 30-second lookers can have a bit of time with each painting.

Anyway, this putative presentation is something about context, and something about time, both of which have occupied me (along with the dratted question of perception) for some years. More about that in my final summary, which I haven’t tackled yet.

However, this morning I went out to do one last painting, in order to make¬† 21 pieces for the 21 days we have had access to the Park. I didn’t paint on some of those days, but on some I painted twice. And I’m not counting the three bad paintings that have been discarded, turned back to the wall until they can be sanded to oblivion.

I thought for the last painting I would do the Neutra Plaza (in the Visitor’s Center), but when I woke up I knew I wanted to do the Painted Desert, the best view of it, from Pintado Point. It wasn’t the right time of day, but I had a choice between painting in the AM and having dinner with friends in the PM, or skipping dinner. I have my priorities, so at 7:30 AM there I was.

The colors of the area are much different in the morning.¬† When we would drive home from the south part of the Park, just before dusk, sun in the west, we would come over a little rise and there it would be — the desert blazing with color. In the morning, the colors are cooler and drabber. So I painted the shapes and forms I saw, but ignored the color, put every red I had on my palette, and used most of them on the board. The smooth, less colorful areas of the painting are the “washes” (which might be big muddy rivers sometimes.) The big one is Lithodendron Wash, which was the way most surveyors, trackers, Native Americans, and early pioneers came through.

The colors appear all wrong on this monitor, but hopefully, back in  Portland, I can control the light and check the colors against the painting, which is now packed away in the Honda, waiting transport. The next blog will be the last, and may have some conclusions.

Which will undoubtedly be revised as I consider this experience over the next few months. –June

Petrified Forest Residency, Day Whatever, Oct. 14, 2010

I have lost track of time. A bit of disorientation in space as well, but  mostly of time.

After returning from the Lightning Field, I had to sleep a lot, and I had to re-orient my head to painting. We found a hardworking crew, putting up a fence around our back “patio” space. They start work at 7 AM.¬† So at 8 this morning, I was at the far south end of the Park, working one last small painting of the employee compound (Park Service Rustic sort of buildings) on a hill which overlooks the entire Visitor’s Center, the road into and away from it, the compound, and the desert and bluff behind.

The south Visitor’s Center is secondary to the big Neutra-designed northern one (which is off I-40). The south center is call the Rainbow Forest and, along with its indoor triassic museum exhibits, features (outside) a lot of petrified logs, big, small, and always colorful. The paths go up one of the eroding cones of badlands, and wind around among them in order to show the logs working their way out of the earth itself. It’s fairly wonderful, but not exactly what I painted.

Rainbow Forest Employees’ Compound, 12 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010

As I said, I am interested as much in the human artifacts as the natural ones, and I needed, for the set of paintings that make up the rectangle I’m envisioning, a small square human artifact painting. I have to think about this compound painting for a while — it’s neither here nor there, it seems to me. And it needs, as usual, tweaking. Perhaps it will fit in with the others when I get them all together.

Then, because I wanted to add another long board to my collection, I did a horizontal which is primarily a color study but which also includes some human artifacts. It’s pretty abstract (which I like) but needs more work. As I was painting it, with the swirls and liquid-like movements, I realized that this landscape was shaped by water. So the quality of water moving about, in the sand, ignoring the human definitions and shoving them aside, seemed appropriate.

From the Rainbow Forest Overlook, 12 x 24″ Oil on masonite, 2010

As of today, I have painted 20 paintings, not counting the 3 that got discarded. I think I want to do one more, of the Neutra Plaza from a different point of view, just to round out my 3 week (21 day) stay.

I have not yet decided which painting the Park will retain — I can take these all home and send one back after I’ve worked on it a bit, although I might have to negotiate the process a bit. But I think every painting I did needs a bit more work, so I’m inclined to play with them through the winter.

I am burned out on painting for the nonce. It was like pulling teeth to get to work this morning, and tomorrow we think we’ll go to Holbrook and visit the Courthouse Museum and Jim Gray’s Rock Shop. And get a Dairy Queen, as a reward.¬† And perhaps I will have to start the last painting, of the Neutra Plaza. I think I’m on a crusade to make the Neutra design loveable.

Reporting from the Petrified Forest, Apt 14 –June

Petrified Forest Residency, Day 14, Oct 9, 2010

Blue Mesa Badlands, Petrified National Forest, 2010.

Having survived the demos, I am taking the day off from painting. Which didn’t exactly mean sleeping in. We got up at our usual time, but this morning, instead of pulling myself up and pulling things together and pulling myself to the car to get to the painting place before the light changed, I made a cup of coffee and meandered around the deserted, cool complex of Visitor Center, Science Center, visiting VIP apartments and some real living quarters.

The tourists who climbed out of their cars all looked a bit grim at 7:43. I sympathized, silently. No one wanted a cheery greeting.

The birds were noisy enough to drown out the noise of the freeway, and far more pleasant too. I stood on a human-made hillock¬† hill that separates the Visitor’s Plaza from the living quarters until my ankles started to itch (ants? desert stick-to-ums?) and then meandered through the Plaza, around the parking lot (eyeing the few cars that grumpily were entering) and back to the back of the maintenance area, where the birds were carrying on and no one at all was in sight.

I am fascinated by human activity within spaces, although I know nothing about the science or research of such. But artists are observers, and I find myself observing what happens when humans are observing or partaking¬† in “nature” — although what we think of as natural is often just over grown human artifacts. I think I may have to start painting “real” landscapes, not just wacky cityscapes, where people are impossible to avoid, but landscapes that include people and their artifacts.

It would be easy to be caustic about the tourists (I have been so, even as I am one myself). But that’s not what I want. What I want is to examine, with paint, what people do faced with the Painted Desert or Petrified Wood. Or Mt Tabor or Colonel Summers Park. How they use the natural stuff around them, what they avoid, where they make paths, when they flee it and when they embrace it. “Landscapes” that include telephone poles and signs and humans as well as the natural elements that normally define the genre.

[Deserted Park building, possibly an old outhouse.]

All this maundering has been engendered by a thoroughly academic article that I only understand about a quarter of that I am reading on my Kindle,  a panel discussion, led by James Elkins, that included a host of folks from all kinds of disciplines. I shall include the name of it later (Jer wants to go get some ice cream right now).

This photo, taken from the Blue Mesa Trail, includes, if you look closely, a train crossing the short prairie grass of the upper Bidahochi mesa as well as a couple of trucks (sorry, you can’t see them at this resolution) beyond the trains, traveling down I-40. We were standing on a steep asphalt trail (obviously made in part by machine) in the midst of wicked badlands (see the first photo). Below us were braided dry washes and conglomerate stuck in bentonite clay as well as steep washes filled with petrified wood. In the far distance is my own personal landmark, painted as an icon of natural landscape, Pilot Rock. But it too takes on human meaning, as a way of defining where the surveyor/explorer/pioneer/gold seeker was in the undifferentiated Colorado Plateau area.

So following are a number of human/natural interface photos, ones I took this morning, while thinking about what we landscape painters ignore as we imitate the Impressionists. My memory of the Impressionists is, of course, that they included the human as well as the natural, but to us, now, those scenes seem fairly romantic, a time passed for which we can wax nostalgic. They are “landscape” to us, as telephone poles are not.

[The Puerco Kiva with sign and folks]

This last photo reminds me of scenes from western movies, all fake, of course, of horsemen riding across ridges (sitting ducks for attacking Native Americans, methinks). These folks are more benign and in little danger of anything but sunburn. You might also notice that everyone has cameras.

Tomorrow we are on the road, to Gallup, on the way to de Maria’s Lightning Field. –June