The Petrified Forest: Recent Developments

I had originally thought to make a somewhat rectangular whole of these 17 paintings from the Petrified Forest. I planned to surround the paintings of the human developments with paintings of the natural landscape. However, the resulting conglomeration of paintings was too large and didn’t hang together, visually speaking, very well.

However, when I set the paintings up along the wall of the studio, they fell easily into groupings that were smaller, more comprehensible, and visually more satisfying.

The title of today’s grouping, “Recent Developments” was provided by Jer, with a sly wink.

The Petrified Forest, Recent Developments: Puerco River Meadow, Puerco Ruins, Agate House, Long Logs Trail, 12 x 12″, 12 x 16″, and 12 x 24″, oil on masonite, 2010

The “recent” developments in this grouping are the Puerco Ruins, Agate House, and a concrete block restroom. The first two are remnants of the Puebloan people who inhabited the area around 1250. Jer’s wink was also an acknowledgement that Agate House was “reconstructed” by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s; it is not authentic, although it uses the original Puebloan materials, in this case the mineralized logs which are so abundant in that area of the Park. Agate House sits on a high hill, originally perhaps for safety reasons, but also its reconstruction made it very visible to early Park visitors.

The Puerco Ruins, made of sandstone and part of more recent ideas about historic and cultural preservation, are part of a large compound of residences and religious remains, including a kiva. The remains are extensive but mostly now covered over with soil by preservationists who found covering ruins in this high dry climate  protected them well from both weather and humans. I was bemused by the Park Service’s abandoned restroom next to the walls of the Puerco Ruins. It is an even more recent development, as well as being a kind of ruin.  I suspect that this concrete extrusion will be removed in the future. But there it was, sitting right next to the ancient sandstone walls.

The Park’s Long Logs Trail (bottom painting in the grouping)  shows off the petrified wood; it overlooks the plain upon which the Agate House is situated. And the Puerco River meadow (top painting) is a view from the Puerco Ruins; the lush meadow is presumably one of the reasons that the Puebloans settled the area.

This grouping is, of course, “cultural” and could have easily been titled “Cultural Monuments.” But the sense that one gets in doing plein air in the area is of a way of life that was part of the landscape instead of plunked down on it;  the irony of Jer’s titling of the “developments” is that they don’t exactly look like suburbs. Of course, the ruins have had hundreds of years to sink back into the soil and when there were hundreds of people living their lives in the meadows, they may had a very different aspect.

Again, I was trying, in these paintings and in this grouping, to provide something of the sense of how the “landscape” with all its attributes, human and natural, historical and geological, was part of what I was experiencing. The experience which the scene provides the artist, for me, is intrinsic to what the artist gives back by way of painting. It isn’t my vision, nor is it a photorealistic depiction, but rather a set of relationships, mental, visual, experiential, environmental, all of which combine for me while I’m painting and when I review the paintings. By setting them into groups, some of the larger forces that I was feeling might be available to the viewer. –June

The continuation shows the individual paintings.

Puerco River Meadows, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2010

Puerco Ruins, 12 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010

Agate House, 12 x 16″, oil on masonite, 2010

Long Logs Trail, 12 x 24″, oil on masonite, 2010

For further information on the Petrified Forest, click here. Note the photo of the Puerco Ruins; luckily the sky had nice clouds the day the photograph was taken.

This entry was posted in Art, commentary, oil painting, Petrified Forest National Park and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Petrified Forest: Recent Developments

  1. June says:

    Thanks for the good wishes with the textile, Sheila. I’ve sort of given over taming it — we are reaching an accomodation. Right now I’m washing warm and natural batting and tomorrow I’m hoping to dye it bright red. So Luck is definitely what I’m going to need:-)


  2. Sheila says:

    Well, this is what I love about you June, your wonkiness and free-spiritedness – I need infusions of that in my otherwise rigid thinking. I have to admit that when I was working on my Azalea Mosaic series, knowing I’d be hanging them in an exhibit together, I never once thought about uniformity in size or shape – Each one dictated its own parameters (or should that be perimeters?) just as you indicate the landscape did, and I didn’t spend a lot of time deciding how to place them on the wall. I could have easily driven myself crazy if I’d decided to figure out their “proper” sizes ahead of time, and then the free flow that came during the making would have been stifled.

    To be honest, when you dictated the size of our challenge pieces, I found myself chafing a bit. How can June work with these standard sizes, I wondered. I so often work square these days, so that was my first huff, but sometimes I wanted to go bigger or smaller or a different proportion length to width. So you see, I guess we’re not so different up to a point! Thanks for your thoughtful answer to my question, I think I learn nearly as much (to a certain extent) from your experiences as you do. Good luck taming that textile.


  3. June says:

    Hi Sheila,

    The original grouping for these painting that I envisioned while in Arizona was more symmetrical, size-wise. But it was too large (14 paintings, I believe, about 10 feet high in all) and too diverse — it didn’t work, even if it was symmetrical.

    As for making them all the same size — Not! I think that way would push me into a similarity of working that would betray the landscape itself. If I had a different way of transporting materials, I would have gone for even great diversity of size (or at least a different set of diverse pieces).

    Of course, to some extent I chose the setting and sizes for the paintings based on a different final grouping, so the sizes may have made more sense there — two and a half weeks of thought (and 18 — 23 paintings) not quite enough time — and certainly not enough logistical room — for much flexibility. And of course, I couldn’t have known what I was to face until I faced it. Ah the joys of residencies.

    However, I must note that lining everything up and pushing for symmetry has never been one of my goals — rather odd, since textiles are the most “flexible” (ie. maddening) items; they just don’t like square and symmetrical without a lot of finicky panic. I figure you like the challenge; me, I tried to go into painting so I didn’t have to deal with warp and weave and bias and fraying.

    I say this and then must note that right now I’m working on a textile piece that insists on being square and symmetrical (according to my own wonky notions of symmetry, of course). And I’m cussing the materials loudly, particularly as I just got through with floating the PEFO paintings on nice squared wood pieces that didn’t give me even a quarter inch of trouble.

    So, I guess every art has its challenges. Why would we bother, otherwise?

    Thanks for continuing this conversation. I do so love a good chat.


  4. Sheila says:

    Yes, that blue/green (at least that’s how it reads on my monitor) was the only thing I felt linked the pictures, except of course, for your word that they co-existed in real life.

    I was wondering if, now that you are working on the groupings, you regret using the different size canvases, or wish certain views were painted on a different size so that the groupings would have more symmetry? You know me and symmetry – I’ve gotta line everything up nice and neat!


  5. june says:

    In part, the Puerco River Meadows fits because if you turned at right angles to the ruin, you would see this scene. It doesn’t fit because stylistically, as you correctly note, it’s quite different; it’s one of those long views, with no fore ground. I reworked the grouping, trying to pull it closer together with color if not style, but must not have succeeded. I can easily change the order of the grouping, though, and will try it as you suggest.

    At this very moment, the hanging devices for these paintings are clamped in the basement, glue drying. After they can be hung from wires, it will be easy to rearrange them. Well, easier….


  6. Sheila says:

    I really like Agate House and Long Logs Trail – There’s really a visual depth, a sense of standing right at the forefront of the painting as if I could step right into it. The angles and the rich russet browns are so inviting.

    Puerco Ruins is quite powerful in its own right. Again, the angles and perspective and that brown pull me right in.

    I’m having trouble seeing Puerco River Meadows fitting with this grouping. I intellectually understand based on the info you’ve given, but visually I find it distracting in the grouping. I’m sure it is because it lacks the dramatic value extremes of the other three. Or maybe it’s its placement above the other three. I could see it fitting nicely in between the middle two but that’s probably not where it belongs. It’s a lovely thing on its own.

    Personal opinion here, you understand!


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