Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reflections on Moab

Another season of plein air competitions has come and gone. Some sales and a few awards have come my way but the experiences, things learned and ties made might be more valuable. Each year and every painting builds upon previous ones. Painting for competitions brings a mind set and level of focus that is different from just going out to paint on my own. Many of the lessons learned can be applied to other kinds of painting and drawing I do.

Early Autumn Desert Asters
Sure, the competitions can be fun, but they aren't easy. Traveling long distances, not always knowing where I'm going to stay, dealing with all kinds of weather; every competition is an adventure.

As often as I can, I paint not only for the competition but also for my own portfolio. Here are a couple of small pictures I painted on the Moab trip. The first is actually the last one painted. It was done while visiting relatives in the four corners area.

Cottonwood Wash, 6" x 8" Oil on Canvas Panel
The next one was painted south of Moab:

Red Rock Juniper, 6" x 8" Oil on Canvas Panel
That was painted on a sandstone bluff looking across a canyon-creased valley toward foothills of the La Sal Mountains. While painting, a little reddish lizard came and climbed onto my foot. I stopped to watch what the lizard was doing. It crawled through a loop in my boot lace and poked it's nose under the cuff of my jeans. Worried about having a lizard up my pants I shifted my other foot. The lizard jumped off the boot and ran a couple feet where it stopped, turned and looked up at me. Again I stood still to see what the lizard would do. It crawled to the boot I had just moved and then went over to the painting equipment I had set on the ground nearby. The lizard crawled around, through and all over the leather bags. I returned to painting. Fifteen or twenty minutes later I took a few steps back from the painting to get a better look at it. When I did, the lizard leaped off my boot and scampered away across the slickrock, not to return this time! Absorbed in my work, I hadn't noticed the lizard was sunning itself on my foot!

There was another strange thing nearby on that same sandstone bluff:

This structure had a semicircle wall of stones about two feet high on one side. Stones, strips of juniper bark and sticks were arranged in curious fashion within an outline of rocks. An uneven pathway outlined with more small stones stretched for several yards from the main structure. Another small arrangement of stones was found close by.

Was this an ancient Anasazi structure? Or was it the site of some strange religious ceremony? After briefly considering these more exciting possibilities, I had to admit the structure was probably built by bored kids entertaining their imagination, possibly while their parents sat in camp chairs around a campfire just down below.

Exploring a dirt road several miles south of the slickrock bluff and the friendly lizard, I came across a somber scene:

This was the largest roadside memorial I've ever seen. It was covered with bouquets of artificial flowers. Here and there among the flowers were dolls and plush toys of all sizes. Toy soldiers were arranged in a couple areas of the memorial. There were a couple small American flags. A set of barbells were included in the mix as was what looked like some parts from a car. Other items were there, including a few pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters scattered around one end of the memorial. I walked around the memorial but out of respect touched nothing. I wish I knew the story behind it.

The days spent on this trip were perfect, all with early autumn blue skies! The cottonwoods in the canyon bottoms were just beginning to turn their brilliant yellow. Stands of scrub oak bore colors from golden ochre to russet. Here and there some reds peeked through all the other colors. Early childhood experience told me to stay away from some of the fall color though. In a side canyon along the Colorado I found this:

Poison Ivy
At a kiosk near Onion Creek, I saw this poster:

Stay off the biotic soil. It looks like it could bite!


L.E.Reynolds said...

Beautiful artwork, I especially like the cottonwood wash. I suppose it's the easterner in me craving green. I enjoy your reflections and observations on life, too!

James Gunter said...

Thanks for reading and commenting! I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I'm hoping that the artwork and observations go together well enough. I want this blog to not only be about painting but also about people, places, and how they all interact.