Diary of a Residency, Day 33, March 20, 2009

Ahhhhhhh. It was a grand day at the Red Barn.

I was reluctant to start. I knew I didn’t know how to fix the big paintings and I had no little ones to procrastinate on. And there was at least one other painting sitting around which was turned to the wall immediately as I walked into the Barn.

When I arrived, there were people wanting to chat me up. And then more came (March in Death Valley seems to bring them out, for good sun-warm reasons) Talking sometimes cheers me up and gives me a bit of a gig, pushing me out of my self-imposed gloom.

So I tackled, though without much hope, the second big canvas that was barely started yesterday. I started in one corner, where I could sort of see what needed done, and proceeded, through the whole thing. And while I tweaked it off and on during the day, by 5 pm, I was pretty satisfied with it.

amargosaplaya2wAmargosa Playa 2, about 5′ x 5′, Oil on canvas.

The Playa 2 is a semi-abstract, just to the right of center on the abstract — representational continuum. I was playing with various perspectives, and hoping to capture something of the feel of the vastness of the playa, just outside the Red Barn doors. I did a representational one of these early on that was quite successful. This, though, was a harder task. [ed note: as of August 31, 2009, the Amargosa Playa 2 painting continues to be worked on, through various versions, including one Emily Carr procedure. The patient lives, but only barely.]

Then I tackled, again, the other big one and this is the result:

goldencanyonrevisitedfinalfixedGolden Canyon Revisited, about 5′ x 5′, Oil on canvas

This was one that editor Jer saw a serious flaw in yesterday; today when I fixed that problem, I created another problem. But I think they are both fixed now.

Both these canvases are pretty good sized — I used a ladder to get to the tops of them. They are my height, but of course raised from the floor, a bit too high for me to reach. One of the tourists took my photo with Golden Canyon; she said she’d email me a copy. [She did mail a copy, which will be exhibited in the Afterward, I think.]

I am content now that I can let these hang for a week, and by that time they will be dry enough to roll up and take home. Both are semi-abstract, both come out of other representational paintings. Both attempt to give the feel of the space being connoted, somewhat claustrophobic in Golden Canyon Revisited, fully open and more open in Amargosa Playa 2.

After working those two, I was feeling my oats, so I retackled the Barrick Mine painting, which has been turned to the wall in embarrassment. But I decided I couldn’t ruin it — as it stood it was so bland as to be annoying. So I smushed paint onto its face, working out some of my feelings about that blasted pile of rubble:barrickminerevisedmar20w1Barrick Open Pit Mine, oil on board, 18 x 36″.

I don’t know if it’s a good painting, but it certainly was a carthartic moment.

Then, it was only 3 pm and I was bored with everything around me — so I started a new large painting on masonite (I can carry it home in its special box), another of the Amargosa Playa. This one was done sitting at the open barn doors, feeling the cooling afternoon wind, being protected by the Barn. A delicious way to paint a scene I’ve come to love:


Amargosa Playa 3, oil on board, 18 x 24″, 2009

The haze on the desert floor felt like the ocean to me as I painted this. Classical music was playing softly, the wind was cool and comforting, the air warm, and the piece just flowed out of me in a single easy sitting. It may need tweaked but right now it feels right.

Then George Radomski, new owner of the Beatty Mercantile, came by to talk about possibly buying some of the paintings for the store. He is such an enthusiastic person that it was the capping of my day. We have reached a tentative agreement and, barring some unforeseen barrier, someone who likes my work a lot will have some of it for himself and his endeavors.

So you see why it was a good day. Jer and I visited the Bullfrog-Rhyolite cemetary when he came to pick me up, and later, we drove back to the Barn from Beatty to get some things and spent the spring twilight, driving around the ghostly light-changing Rhyolite. I hope to find a place not on BLM land to paint from up on the hill, behind Rhyolite, sometime within the next week. Tomorrow I’ll approach Betty and ask where the BLM land stops. You apparently aren’t allowed to paint on BLM land, although you can photograph all you want.

Reporting from Beautiful Downtown Beatty, Nevada, where spring has sprung and the cottonwoods are greening up.


Diary of a Residency, day 26, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th.

A nice easy slow day. After the exhaustion of Death Valley yesterday, I decided today not to attempt to deal with the wind and sun and carting the materials and setting up in the midst of sand fleas and kibitzers: I stayed inside the Red Barn, with the big doors wide open for sun and warmth, and piddled. With paint, I mean, not physical functions. I didn’t arrive until after 10 and stayed only until 4 today — a lovely easy day.

A bird, rather large sparrow-ish sort, got in somehow — not through the doors, I think — and then squealed and flayed about for a couple of hours. Then it went silent. I’m hoping that meant he/she found her way back out the hole she found her way in. Either that, or we’ll find a dead bird lying on the cement on Sunday.

Tomorrow we are off to Death Valley again. I’m taking a couple of my medium boards ( 18 x 24) and will paint. I don’t expect miracles — or even good paintings — but there will be few or no human elements to distract me. Barbara says maybe I pull back from the awe-some because it’s too much — fear takes over my desire. I’m not sure it’s fear, but I certainly haven’t yet managed what I hope for.

I am, however, happy with further mangling of a piece I did some days ago: the Bare Mountains in the evening show faces they don’t show in the AM.

This is the latest version.

baremountainspmdraft3wBare Mountains, pm, Oil on board, 18  x 24, 2009

I note that I called the last version of this “Final” in my last photograph; I lied. I used a spendy lavendar pigment today and got positively enthralled with it. Of course, I can’t remember the name of the pigment, only that I gasped at the price. The mountains have those sharp edges that show up only in the evening light.

The light today, for the first time since we got here, has suddenly become flat and blank. I think it’s because the sun has gotten higher, away from the southern skies where it cast such gorgeous shadows. It might be time to go home (or get up early or stay up late, neither of which appeal to me).

I also played around with other paintings that were in process today: the long board of the ghost town and the sculptures set properly into the mountains. It wasn’t dry enough to really do a job on the tiny bits, but I made a start:


Rhyolite Ghost Town and Goldwell Open Air Museum, 18 x 36″,oil on board, 2009

This is the one that I did the landscape from a mile down the road; now I’m adding the central human bits. It was the scene that the camera couldn’t capture. But then again, who am I to complain about “capturing?”

I fussed with the Beatty Exchange Club intersection a bit; I think it needs a big honking truck to bring it to life. Alas. I dislike painting vehicles. They look so silly.

exchangeclub2draft2wFree Parking, 12 x 16″, oil on board

Yep, definitely needs some vehicles. As soon as I’m rested…..

I will have to finish up any ideas I have about long boards in the next couple of days, as well as finishing the big wall (unstretched) canvases (I have about 3 that I think I will try to do). They will need a week’s drying time and that means nothing after next Friday or Saturday can be painted on those surfaces. I have plenty of room in traveling containers for wet oils at the 18 x 24 size and the 12 x 16 size, so I can continue to work on the smaller ones (less ambitious ones) after next Friday.

I think the long boards are a bit too much for me as a painter to handle, particularly when the time is short. The scale requires more preparation (or a smarter painter). But I’m OK with how the one long one above (Rhyolite and the sculptures). Perhaps because this is a subject I’ve tackled from a variety of directions (another version is facing the wall in disgrace). For whatever reason, it is coming along. I want to do a long-scale painting of the open pit mine, but that will consume a whole day and then some. Maybe Monday I’ll tackle that. I’ll need to get Jer’s help getting the board and materials there and back — it’s probably about 2.5 miles away from the Barn. Perhaps on Sunday I’ll do some sketches and see what I can sort out before I start in with paint. It’s not like me to start with sketches, but it’s  more efficient. I need to do it on-site, however. Camera shots simply are inadequate.

Working with photos of art on this laptop is challenging too (maddening is a better word). Depending on the angle of the screen, the photos look washed out or just too, too, too. And Photoshop Elements, which I’m using here because the laptop is Vista, is enough different from regular (old) Photoshop, that I can’t trust its automated functions.

Ah well, just whining a bit. The end is nigh, as they say. George found me a local fix-it fellow to make a stake for my easel (I lost one of the three that are useful when the winds howl). And we are set up for the performance at the Amargosa Opera House next Saturday. Ah, what a social scene….

From Beatty, Nevada, Friday the 13th of March, 2009.


Diary of a Residency, Day 24, March 11, 2009

I painted the big board that I was thinking about yesterday, the one of the landscape that holds the ghost town of Rhyolite and the Goldwell Sculptures. The last one I did was bad, so it got turned face to the wall. This time I knew I had to paint on-site to get the mountains to frame and hold the scattered pieces. So I hiked a mile down the road, where I could see the mountains as I wanted to paint them.

I’m always amazed at what I can see and what the camera can’t.

Here’s the view I painted:

rhyolitesculpturesiteandartThe tiny specks are the way the camera sees the town of Rhyolite when the mountains are brought into the frame. But here’s approximately the way part of the town looks to my eyes from this spot:

rhyoliteasitlooksfrompaintiTo photograph this, I had to walk up the road something like half a mile, although I could see it perfectly well from the earlier site.

None of this is scientific, of course, and part of the reason for photographing it closer is in the hopes that I won’t have to go back out in a windstorm to paint the ghost town. The weather this morning was good for painting (not so good this afternoon), but I don’t trust it to stay that way. So I can use the photos if I need to.

This painting belongs in the middle of the group that started with the scene to the south of the barn and works its way around to the west. This big (18 x 36″) painting will fit into that empty space above its head in the photo below:

fittingthebigscenewI may do another small one to the south west to complete the circle. But even if I don’t, this feels like it will be complete once I’ve put in the scattered pieces in the center of the painting on the table.

I now have four paintings in process: one of the Exchange Club in downtown Beatty, one of Scotty’s Rebellion, one of June’s Map of Beatty, and the Big Scene at Rhyolite, that I just got a start on today. And tomorrow we are planning on going off to Death Valley. We are both a bit jaded by our routines. Going off in the car is a good way to make coming back home feel wonderful.

inprogressmar11wAbove are three of the four paintings, in progress.

Reported from Beatty, Nevada, where I yawn after a day in the dust and sun.