Monday, November 16, 2009

Texas Road Trip

I just returned from a road trip to Dallas. I wanted to check out the art scene there & look up a few friends along the way. It was 20° here in Santa Fe this morning. Finally, some season-appropriate weather. We received only a few flakes from the storm that hit Colorado, our ski basin a few inches. This morning I ran up Picacho and shot the photo below.

I followed a bobcat’s tracks all the way up. It skipped the bends in the disused trail & opted for the most efficient route, as predators always do. I was trying to burn as many calories as I could stand, and the cat was trying to conserve as many calories as possible.

The plains between here and Dallas are a landscape transformed by human appetite.

There were beef cattle and feed lots, fields of wind turbines (not to be confused with the old prototype windmill above), grasslands grazed to the bone, and perhaps not as many oil wells as there used to be. The preferred site for wind turbine fields seems to be mesa tops. When environmentalists advocated for wind power a decade ago, I don’t think they had in mind the grids of sonic booming, bird and wildlife-killing monoliths that are now more common than cotton fields and cattle in West Texas. Why and how they are killing wildlife other than the obviously unfortunate birds who are sucked in is not yet understood. As long as we continue to consume electricity at our present rate, however, we can’t really complain about wind turbines. At least they are not coal-fired or nuclear plants.

The road to Dallas is populated by few people, many decaying industrial forms and abandoned structures, and a collection of small towns that seem to be hanging on by the skin of their teeth. When I lived for four years in West Texas, I hated the place, largely because there was no public land, which made me feel like a rat in a cage, and because it is overrun with Republicans and fundamentalists.

On my first trip back in ten years, I was struck by the beauty of the expansive vistas and disintegrating human-built structures. They seeded themselves in my creative imagination and have already begun blossoming.

Night Spirit, West Texas / watercolor / 8 x 10 inches

84 South / watercolor / 8x 10 inches
I am fairly bursting with the desire to get back to some big oil paintings. As soon as I finish matting a stack of watercolors that will accompany me to a museum show in Indianapolis in 2.5 weeks. . .

We spent a night with our friend Bruno and his fabulous cat Hermes in Ransom Canyon, an oasis near Lubbock that is home to a steel house built by the recently deceased Robert Bruno (name similarity coincidental). It juts out like a hawk’s eye over the suburban landscape of the canyon.

The Dallas are scene may be small, but it is vibrant. I visited only galleries that show contemporary abstract work, and I spoke with some energetic and friendly people.  Nearly all of the artwork was organic in design, content, and often media. Things were growing in these paintings and sculptures. Artists were overlaying topo maps with personal visual mythologies (something I do from time to time) and creating sculptural forms that spoke of plant life and undersea worlds.

The standout was a piece at Dunn and Brown Contemporary comprised of plant material molded into human skull forms hung in a grid, with a map identifying the plant material (rose petals, mustard seeds, etc.) each skull was made of.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get the artist’s name & couldn’t find it on their website. Galleries of interest include HCG, Craighead Green, Conduit, and DeCorazon. In this steel and concrete desert, galleries are selling, and presumably collectors are buying, portals through which viewers may touch down itno nature and psyche (which are one and the same). Returning via the feedlots and oil fields, I found this reassuring.

As we reentered New Mexico, a storm front blew in from the north.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Morning Run

Out running this morning, I was contemplating what sort of consciousness trees, rocks, mountains, and streams possess.  I've no doubt they do.  Many ancient and contemporary thinkers have taken this one on.  I recently read that contemporary physics has now figured out that rocks have consciousness.  Mountains are aggregates of rocks.  Every mountain seems to have a personality and consciousness of its own.  Yesterday, I was grieving for mountains that are subject to the corporate mining practice of mountain top removal.  Today I'm celebrating whole mountains.  Here's a little photo essay of my run.  I run in a different place every day.  This route is one of my favorites.     

Heading up.  I always like to go up, especially at the beginning.  Pond and beaver dam at center.
Sandia Mountains, 60 miles south, in background.

Thompson Peak, Santa Fe River

Thompson Peak, looming large & ghostly in the early morning light.

Atalaya Mountain.  The ashes of my parents are up there!  Hi Mom & Dad.

360-degree mountains.  Looking west: the Jemez.
East/southeast: Picacho Peak.

Thompson Peak again.  It's the mountain I'm standing on top of in the photo at the top of this blog.  I love it because it's hard to get to & out of the way.

Down off the ridge now & running along a stream on the valley floor.  This rock is huge, and a bear moved it looking for tasty bugs to eat.  Hello bears!

A small animal abode.   I'll learn what kind of animal when I run by this tree in the snow (soon, I hope) and see its tracks.

One of my favorite pieces of naturally ocurring rock art.  A painting waiting to happen.
Stream bed.  Right now it's a trickle, but in the spring it's a raging waterfall.  On the south-facing hill above it, a man has been living in the open air for years, with minimal possessions--not even a tent.  He's the only person I ever see out here.  I think about his grit & love of solitude.  He's chosen a nice spot.
Almost back to my starting point.  Chamisa in the foreground, piñon in the back.  Three ponderosa pines.
Deer tracks beneath an apple tree that appears to have seeded itself and grown wild.  It's a magnet for deer, bears, and everything smaller.
Almost back to the field where I started, and where I saw a bobcat last week and a doe and fawn all summer.  Picacho peak behind the cottonwoods in their fall colors.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ravens, Red-Tailed Hawks, & Coyote Sightings

We are enjoying a warm spell. Blue skies, gentle temperatures, and soft warm autumn light. I took two eight year old girls hiking, to a frozen waterfall on Two Doe Mountain. I like to name mountains that are not named on maps. My paintings are sort of like that—visual descriptions of unnamed territory, or maps of places on maps that I have intentionally not visited.

The raven in the photograph above posed, talking to me, on the roof of Evergreen Lodge in Hyde State Park, where we began our hike. A few seconds later, I snapped this shot.

The only sound better than a raven’s lecture is the noise of its wings beating overhead. No other bird flies with that rhythmic, beating, breathy sound.  I'd like to reproduce the essence of that sound in a painting.  I've a feeling that the image above will appear in a painting soon.  Ravens and trees, particularly aspen and ponderosa pine, have been commanding my attention of late.

Last weekend, as we were driving down our street, my kids and I saw an ascending red-tailed hawk drop a large rodent to its death. In the flash of a second, the rodent fell with the autumn leaves kicked up by a sudden gust of wind. Our brains were a little slower. It took us a moment to process what we’d seen.

I found the skeletal remains of two deer in the forest last week. I’ve noticed a lot of coyote tracks in that area recently. I wondered whether coyote predation on the deer was increasing or my ability to spot bones on the forest floor was improving. Thursday night, over beer & pizza, I was telling a friend that I hadn’t seen a coyote in months, though I know they are numerous in my neighborhood. Friday morning we saw two, as I was driving Carmen to school, in an open brushy area on my street. They paused briefly and looked us over. They looked big and healthy. I though of my fat, white, brain damaged cat, and hoped she had heeded my advice to stay in the fenced back yard. Reminders that nature is red in tooth in claw, and life brief and precious, abound. It’s a theme that surfaces in many of my paintings.