Good friends have the uncanny ability to state the obvious. For those of us who consider ourselves fairly in tune with who we are (raises hand), these kinds of observations can be jarring, in ways both good and bad.
On a casual walk earlier and many degrees northwest/cooler ago this spring, my good friend said the following while out for a walk on an icy, sunny path: “I’m excited to see how being in the southwest influences your art.”
My head jerked up.
She was right, of course. Being immersed someplace else would naturally influence the choices I make about what to paint. It’s true that I tend to crave the opposite season of whatever I’m in, and Alaska reference photos will come in handy during the high heat of the summer here in Utah. But it’s also true that I find myself fascinated by what surrounds me. Part of my way of engaging with the world is to scrutinize, explore, and derive from it something ephemeral, and yet permanent, by way of painting.
Fast forward several months, and picture me gawking like the classic NYC tourist. Instead of looking up at tall buildings, I can’t get enough of the bronzed, ruddy, soft and yet still stone, sandstone formations that characterize this place that we live in right now in southwest Utah. It looms, it towers, it folds. It has flat-bottomed patterned holes and sockets that look like you could use them for decorative shelving. The colors range from white to tan to that classic burnished and almost unbelievable red that glows proudly against the blue sky, especially early in the morning or before sunset.
So it made sense that I’d choose to study what I have been lucky enough to be immersed in every day by way of painting. My friend, turns out, was right about me (as friends so often are).
Today I completed a painting based on hoodoo formations at the stunning, eerie, and surprising Bryce Canyon National Park. Just as it’s humbling being in an entirely new landscape and learning about what it is and what it means to be here, it’s humbling to attempt to engage with that landscape through painting. I’ve said it before: I am constantly learning as an artist. There’s no there-there; there’s no painting I look at and think, oh yes, this will be my exact approach and process.
That’s part of the discovery and what keeps me engaged. It’s also maddening.
I thought a lot about my early days painting snow. At first, I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) believe my eyes. Wasn’t snow white? Well, no, artist Alli. I tried laying down white, and it didn’t look right until I figured out that snow is blue. And pink. Purple. Slate gray. Yellow. Orange.
Similarly, the hoodoo appeared orange, with a little yellow. But actually there was umber. And pink. Some white. But many times, the surface of the rock was a little of a lot of different colors, all layered and caked together and punctuated by the deep etchings, folds, and shadows I mentioned earlier.
My learning hasn’t and won’t stop. This will be the first of many more red-rock inspired paintings. But this one will probably have required the most effort, as I learn to inhabit and translate what it is I’m seeing and experiencing in a way that honors both the external reality and expresses how I feel within it.
In case it’s not obvious: elated. Calm. Content. Awed. I am supremely grateful to be here and to be trying on what this place and this new life feels like and means for me, and I am grateful for all of the people I am so lucky to be connected with that know, celebrate, and see this with me. Thank you!