Monday, March 15, 2010

Diebenkorn in New Mexico

This morning there was a crash or an avalanche or something on the ski basin road. I hope no one was hurt. I and hundreds of Texans in SUVs were turned back. I've been contemplating the carbon footprint we leave behind when we drive out into the wilderness to recreate. Seeing all of those SUVs roaring back down the mountain really drove it home, so to speak.

Last week, I saw a guy riding up the ski basin road on a mountain bike with skis strapped to his back. He put me to shame. I haven't ridden a bike with skis strapped to my back since I was in college. A bunch of us skied the sand dunes of Alamosa, Colorado, in the summer, under a full moon. We drove to Alamosa in a VW bus and marooned our bikes in the sand when we figured out that walking would get us to the base of the dunes faster.  I haven't been riding since I crashed my bike (and my face) last summer. I resolve to look into those new bamboo bikes. Stronger than steel, and only a tiny carbon thumbprint results from their making.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, I've been struggling a bit this week. I finished two rather large paintings last week, so I can't complain.
This one is called The River Is Moving, The Raven Must Be Flying (oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches).  It's one of the more obvious examples of how I process what I experience in the mountains onto the canvas.  Followers of the blog may recall these two photos I shot last fall while on a run in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

The ravens (actually two shots of the same raven) came back while I was in the studio a couple of weeks ago and demanded that the painting be reworked around them.

For months now, I have been pouring over the images in Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico. What a gorgeous book. Diebenkorn received his masters degree at UNM. This book features dozens of plates of paintings from that period. The work is raw, primitive, vital, and confident. I like the paintings better than his later, much more geometric and controlled work. The New Mexico landscape is evident in the early paintings. They read like a birds-eye view of the canyons, draws, spires, arroyos, valleys, and mountains of NM, filtered through a dream, or accessed directly through a visual unconscious.

These last couple of months, while under the spell of the Diebenkorn book, I've been out in the mountains on my backcountry skis a lot. It's an El NiƱo year, which always means great snow for northern NM. While I was struggling in the studio this week, I was struggling with my new skis on the descents. Trying too hard. Measuring my progress or lack thereof. Getting frustrated. Finally, the other day, I began to relax and ride the mountain, feel its contours beneath my feet, feel my feet beneath me in my boots, laugh at myself.  When I went back into the studio, the same thing happened with the paintbrush. I was back in a groove, mapping the land that I'd been experiencing on my skis; painting, not thinking.  There's nothing like a little laughing yoga.

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