As I have been stumbling to explain, my plein air experience is infinitely larger, more amazing and important, than my plein air paintings. It’s inevitable, the smells, the sights, the history, the culture, geology, geography, the wind and sun and sky — only tiny bits of this can be encompassed in any single painting. And so, trying to give a slightly greater insight into the experiences of the paintings, I have grouped seventeen of them from the Petrified Forest into five “sets.” My hope is that each of these sets has its own “verse” which then resounds into a greater chorus of the whole.
I’m going to go through the sets, one at a time, over the next couple of weeks. This is set #1, Natural Monuments:
These are all paintings I’ve shown previously as individual paintings. These three have a similarity of style, which is due to the way I painted them, of course, but is also related to the nature of the formations themselves. The Logs are the smallest of the “monuments,” being about 3 — 5 feet in length. The Tepees are the largest, perhaps 200–300 feet high. The Hoodoos are perhaps 6 –8 feet. And yet each stands apart from its neighbors, forming some kind of isolated grandeur. The logs are not eroded; they are hard minerals. But the hoodoo and the Tepees are both part of the formations that wind and water sculpt and shape, the hoodoos of hardish sandstone, the Tepees of concentrated ash and clay.
So these are all of a kind and yet differentiated and isolated, grand in their separate ways. As the first set, they practically chose themselves.
In general, the pulling together of the sets was remarkably easy. In part, the colors helped choose the sets, but in part, the landscape and environment forced the style of the painting.
This is the formalists’ heresy, that the style comes from outside the painter. Yet, for the plein air painter not to be manipulated by the scene she is painting seems unfathomable to me. Just as I manipulate the scene, the scene forces me to paint in particular ways. It’s a mutual act, which results in a third thing — neither my vision nor the landscape itself, but something that is a force from both.
More next time. –June
In the continuation, I have the separate views of each of these paintings.