Monday, February 15, 2010

What does this have to do with art?

I’ve been writing about human coexistence with wildlife. What does this have to do with art? My art, my paintings, have everything to do with wilderness.

My paintings are reflections on my experience of wilderness. Without access to wilderness, I wouldn’t be painting. When people see my paintings, they often say things like “interior landscapes.” I appreciate that every viewer sees something different in my work. Some see emotions, some landscapes, others colors and symbols. Recently, at an exhibition, a woman said “these paintings are maps, aren’t they.” This was the closest anyone has come to divining what I do when I paint. I do not try to make maps, but map making is what happens.

My process goes something like this: I go out running, wandering, or skiing in the mountains, off-trail. I follow water or I find water. I avoid humans. I encounter wildlife. I try to be unobtrusive, but I am human--a giant ape crashing through the forest.  I meditate.  I listen. I explore the land with my body, traversing ridges, climbing scree, bounding down pine-covered spines in the snow, following streams, climbing waterfalls, falling still and watching deer, turkey, muskrat, pika, marmot, ferret, rabbit, raven, hawk. All the while, I am being watched, by mountain lion, coyote, bear; the more elusive beings. I stay out there as long as possible. Often, I think of Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening,” the last stanza,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

I come back. I go into the studio. I paint. I remove layers. I add layers. Like weather, water, wind, time. I let the painting rest. I work on other paintings.  Layers come and go. At some point the painting is finished. I live with it for awhile. Maybe it is not finished. Or maybe it goes away. Sooner or later, I realize that it is a map of my wandering in the backcountry. I traverse the land with my body, never in a straight line, rarely on a trail, always following some inner map. I come back, and I paint, with little agenda; no conscious idea what I am doing--the same way I run. 

I consider my work land art. How can a painting be land art? My paintings wouldn’t exist without the land. Without forests, mountains, water, wildlife. They are visual chronicles of my interaction with nature. I make maps.

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