Painting Adobe (picture, I mean)

I’ve been working in a number of directions over the last week, getting things done but getting no Thing done.

However,  here’s an update of one painting I did that was looked really bad when I unwrapped it after we got back from the Petrified Forest.

The Painted Desert Inn, named for the Painted Desert scenery that unfolds just behind the building, belongs to the National Park Service. It’s no longer an Inn, although it is open to the public and serves as a kind of historic site in the Park. Under the adobe façade are petrified logs from the Park. In the 1930’s the CCC guys renovated the Inn, turning it into a Spanish Revival style building. Fred Harvey ran a restaurant in the building for some time thereafter, but it moved, as all buildings do, toward dilapidation, and the restaurant closed. The building was almost demolished in the 1970’s, but preservationists fought and won, and the it was renovated, saving some of the fine paintings by a Navajo artist, restoring much of the interior as it had been at its best, and preserving the basic adobe styling.

Painting adobe reminds me that one doesn’t learn to paint; one learns to paint specific kinds of things. I had not learned to paint adobe. I had never tried painting adobe. I had particularly not painted adobe in the desert sun. But at the Petrified Forest, of course, I painted the PDI (Painted Desert Inn) at least 3 times, always in the desert sun. The worst one is the one I’ve been working on refurbishing, with the hopes that doing this “least good one” will help me when I get to the other two versions.

Here’s what it looked like the afternoon I threw in the towel (with brushes and palette close behind)

In all fairness (to myself) it was very hot, I was being bombarded by questions from tourists who had heard I was painting at PDI, and I had already painted one painting, a big one, earlier that day. So this is what you call a very rough first draft. Luckily, I took some reference photos, so I could return to the scene, at least photographically.

Here’s where I am tonight with this painting:

The Painted Desert Inn, #2,  12 x 16″, Oil on masonite, 2010

Painting adobe is all about shapes and molding them through lights and darks. It’s the closest I’ve come to dealing with a structure that requires some of the skills of the portrait painter. Alas, I don’t do portraits, either.

I am growing fonder of the roughness of the first painting and less fond of the stiffness of this revision. So it might get turned to the wall. I don’t think I can recover the “loose” quality of the first bad painting. Maybe I can do some Photoshop magic with the photos, joining the two versions, and turn this into a textile piece — after I get some Things Done. –June

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