Skip to content

A Portrait of Place

March 19, 2012

The Ides of March has come and gone but I am still here. The middle of March signifies not only the day Caesar was killed but a turn in the weather, a time of tumultuous change, a stirring before the harbingers of good things to come. This past week has been like that here. Nighttime winds have tried to peel the metal roof off of my cabin and the days have been cold and snowy with a train of ropey clouds rolling across the basin. The land itself is changing too. Precipitation has turned the mud flats into a soggy mess but is also turning what was the dun color of a well-worn Carrhart jacket into the pastel shades of the desert in springtime: pale greens, yellows and reds. Spring will soon arrive, hopefully before I leave and head over the mountain passes.
The weather reminds me of home. The shifting moods of light and dark play off of the landscape as the clouds come and go, the afternoon rays illuminate distant snowstorms and the clouds are dramatically stage-lit as the sun sets. Two weeks ago the sun shone so bright and hot that it flattened the landscape into an abstract painting; now the clouds all lie on a ceiling such that it is impossible to not read the space beneath them. There are times when not photographing the unfolding scene feels like an omission, then, there are times when I want to capture only the flat bands of color, the green stripe of muddy water against the purple hues of the distant hills. It changes constantly.
As I have been observing and painting all of this shifting light, the roving shadows keep giving me more information about the land. I completed the map I started last week and have titled it Map of Summer Lake Based Upon my Observations. I tried to imagine being a pioneer and having the boundaries of my world defined by what I could see or was within a days travel. It is not perfect but you could use it to make your way around the basin. The vast areas beyond my view I simply labeled unknown lands as an early explorer might have done. In grade school I would copy old maps for extra credit in Social Studies  and go so far as to spill coffee on them and burn the edges so that they would look ancient. With my right hand still in a brace my lines have an adolescent quality to them, so I treated the drawing the same as would have then: burning the edges, spilling my coffee.
Map makers were — and still are — very important in our development as a nation and to our understanding of the landscape. They are the seers who interpret all of the available information and come up the graphic image that expresses it-which is what an artist does. That’s why we live in America not Columbia. It was Thomas Jefferson who gave the initial charge to survey the entire country, to fill in those blanks places labeled as unknown. Now, we have a plethora of maps and satellite imagery freely available to us. A USGS map with all of its topographic detail is incredibly sculptural; many of my wall sculptures are based on maps. For me, a well-made map is the perfect complement to a landscape painting or photograph: one offers light and color, the other gives details of measurement and scale. Together they form a portrait of place.


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: