Up here in the Rockies an alpine hut can be like Grand Central Station. Even in the middle of the day hikers are coming and going, securing better sleeping positions for the night, making tea, nursing sprains. In places as remote as this you can still feel the crush of humanity. I move to an ecologically neutral area near the outhouse and call it my office.
An easel, paints, notebook, satellite phone, loaf of bread, cup of wine, and thou. Well, I have to admit, I’m missing thou. It’s a sparsely-treed heather meadow at the 2200 meter level. A noisy brook runs through it. Mountains at the head of four adjacent valleys give a jagged horizon all around. Morning, noon and evening provide an education in the lighting of forms. Night time has more stars than one can dream. “Yoho” is a native word that means “Wondrous.”
I’ve made sure I have enough materials for the allotted time. My deja vu tells me what I have to do. Start. Somehow you get that first stroke down and things begin to take care of themselves. “One thing leads to another,” as Don Quixote noted. It’s one of the great principles of what we do. “Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed.” (Goethe) But it’s good to keep in mind that nothing has to be completed right now. In our business, nothing is written. But we know that a good start gives us something to play with later, tomorrow, or when we get down the hill. Starting and working have the effect of burning in the subject and glimpsing its potential. The human brain, when pressed, can take in and retain a lot of valuable information — especially nuances that the finest camera cannot see. In opaque medium early errors in colour or design are overwritten. Contemplation and the passage of time conspire to define pictorial effectiveness. “Get going,” is where it’s at. Bloody simple, if it wasn’t for the mozzies.
PS: “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” (Robert W. Service)
Esoterica: In the late twenties J.E.H. Macdonald was one of the great painters of Yoho Park, Canada. No matter how cold the morning he was on the job. He threw pebbles at the cabin of his artist friends in order to arouse them. “The most important thing,” he said, “is to find somewhere comfortable to sit.”
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
by Jan Faught, Utah, USA
So how do you carry everything to such remote locations? I have an aluminum easel which helps, forget carrying the full French Easel anywhere. One of those blue art boxes made of fabric helps but the plastic boxes break really easily. I finally found some non-breakable boxes that fit in. But the fabric box would work much better if it were a backpack because it slips off your shoulder too easily. Also, big brushes don’t fit, I know, I need to saw off the ends. Then there is the problem of carrying mineral spirits.
(RG note) This time I took the French Easel with a folding stool bungied to one side and an assortment of canvasses bungied to the other. I weighed it before I left and it was 27 lbs. But I have a confession to make: As there were several other packets as well, we hired a “strapping young man” to pack it into the location. John Singer Sargent did the same thing with much larger canvasses — using outfitters and packhorses.
Thru their eyes
by Patty Lurie, Paris, France
How exciting that you had a similar experience to mine. “What a privilege to be with creative and observant companions past and present.” I wrote two books tracing the footsteps of the impressionist painters. I stood in their shoes and looked thru their eyes. I realized that a landscape painting is not an exact reproduction of every “fact” seen but rather an orchestrated creative endeavour. My own paintings were never the same after comparing impressionist sites to famous impressionist landscape/cityscape paintings. So liberating to see what they had seen and then what they had created.
(RG note) Patty Lurie is the author of Guide to Impressionist Paris and Guide to Impressionist Landscape. Valuable books for use in the Rocky Mountains are A Hiker’s Guide to the Art of the Canadian Rockies, by Lisa Christensen, and also by the same author, A Hiker’s Guide to the Rocky Mountain Art of Lawren Harris.
Sleeping in huts
by Lily Christensen, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
I’ve also stayed in some alpine huts, including Elizabeth Parker at Lake O’Hara and the Whistler hut in Roger’s Pass. My first experience in a hut with total strangers was at the headquarters in Canmore when I shared a room with seven young men (I am in my late fifties, and female). These guys were all young enough to be my children and maybe even grandchildren. It was a holiday weekend and they had all been at the bar so it was also a beery, smelly experience. The next night I made a nest in my van and slept like a log. For some dumb reason I had expected a hostel to have male and female dormitories. That really dates me, doesn’t it? I envy you the experience of being up ‘there’. Lake O’Hara is so special, especially when the larches are in full colour. I spent a rainy afternoon at the Whyte Museum in Banff. It has a metal-bound album with photos of paintings by the Whytes and others, a lot of them from that area of the Rockies.
When the fish strikes
by Moncy Barbour
Matisse went to Tahiti for three months in search of his hero Gauguin’s dream and only found himself to be adrift in a lazy sea of questing. I like Gauguin’s repertoire of art as well. In his woodcut relief prints or his wood carvings there is the savage dream beckoning to enter his world. His work is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. I have no certain time to paint, sculpt, print, etc. I worry about this but not today as my friend and I are going fishing. When the fish strike I will fish. When the mood strikes I will paint.
A life of chasing beauty
by Leslie Jackson, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
I paint and sculpt. Over the last 5 yrs I have sold enough finished work to exist and to continue to make more. I love this life of chasing beauty. I have been studying painting and sculpting techniques for 6 yrs or so now. I have and I will study Beauty my entire life. Though I have not taken formal classes in fine art I study every minute from many sources. I love beauty.
I saved every dollar I could squirrel away a few years ago and went to Italy planning to stay a very short time till money ran out. I was able to find some students to teach sculpting to, get a gallery to sell a few works in, traded a piece of sculpture to academy of fine art instructor there in Florence who spoke English in exchange for a year of weekly critiques of my work, got a contract to carve coins for Vegas casinos thru Global Mint and lived very frugally. I was there for a couple of years, observing and copying from great masters’ works and from everyday life. Living like someone cut from La Boheme, I learned a great deal about what is of true and lasting importance in life during my time there. I learned of consciously selecting the Beauty from the bounty. I learned this is an innate skill we all possess and must learn to trust. I sculpt and paint mythological figures. Greek gods, Hybrids, etc., etc., acting out vignettes of eternal idea and circumstance. My work would be more classified as Romantic than classical. I attempt to have my creatures assume a believability because I weight them heavily with specific emotional attributes. This does not work if the figure is abstracted to the point of not telegraphing as believable. Believable figures expressing specific emotions necessitates incorporation of both the classical and realistic but my “style” is Romantic or Mannerist, I think. Mythological creatures are complex, and by virtue of their strong identifying characteristics make excellent props thru which I attempt to connect emotionally with other human beings. Finding a way to express my notions to others of the eternal human condition from the perspective of an imaginative world of “no particular time or place and all times and places” is why I get up in the morning. I am particularly drawn to creating Satyrs and Chimeras for some reason that I am unable to fully understand or articulate.
When people who I have never met before say they love and read volumes in my creatures and what they read is close to what I actually attempted to express, it is the greatest pleasure in my life.
I think it is the privilege and duty of the artist to everyday seek out Beauty and truth. It is the eternal chase and it is personal but the roads have been well marked by kindred souls over many millennia finding their way. I have found a very important element in this chase is to surround myself as much as possible with other seekers. Fortunately I have been very lucky in this regard and find them everywhere I go. Many are also collectors of my work and artists themselves in one form or another. Other artists more accomplished have been very generous with their knowledge and I owe a great debt to people who have shared their experiences with me. The Portland Opera director Robert Bailey, a very accomplished musician and true Renaissance Man, collects my work. He and his wife were instrumental in opening whole worlds of music appreciation to me, which has propelled me forward in magical ways in my painting and sculpting.
I think attempting to create beauty is actually the fun part, a kind of oasis in a desert of what can be often a painfully lonely journey in the discovery of destiny as it unfolds. The challenge in life and the primary contributor to the success in the creation of Beauty, more than any skill of materials handling, I think, is staying the course and pressing on in the exploration of what it means to be a human being.
by Ron Sanders
Not long ago I wrote and asked what was wrong with my work and why it wasn’t selling. I received many responses from our community of subscribers, thanks to you. My website was discussed in detail, and I am totally redesigning it and eliminating many things. I was strongly criticized for the overuse of photography, which I am trying to deal with by working more from life. I also went to New Mexico to a week-long workshop with Huihan Liu, a Master Signature Member of the Oil Painters of America who was trained in the Soviet Social Realist style while growing up in China. I thoroughly enjoyed the week, both because of what I learned and because of the people that I was with. Hopefully I can take that energy and confidence, and a bolder stroke, into new works here at home.
by Kim Wyatt, El Cajon, California, USA
I’d like peoples’ thoughts and experiences on the topic of achieving your art goals while dealing with a chronic health problem. I’ve been diagnosed with a nonfatal chronic disease and I’m trying to revamp art objectives. These are my problems:
1. Must keep my non art job as it provides my health coverage
2. Low energy level means: a. I can’t make as much art, b. I don’t have as much time and energy to market my art.
3. The nature of my illness keeps me house bound a great deal of the time, making it hard to network and make gallery contacts. Usually by the end of my work- week I’m exhausted and I have to rest and attend to household and family obligations (I’m a Mom).
I need to redefine my goals in a way that is realistic and attainable for me now that I am ill. I have the desire, ambition and dedication to continue being an artist, I will not give up on my art. My problem is that all my goals and expectations for myself now seem like too much. Should I revamp my art goals and scale them down or stick to the same goals and allow more time?
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 100 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.
That includes Maureen Mitchell who writes, “I’ve chuckled at your letters about beautiful Lake O’Hara. Each time I stay at the hut I say to myself — Self, this is the last time I stay here, it’s the lodge for me from now on. However, it certainly is one of life’s experiences that I’m glad I didn’t miss. Nothing can dampen the spirits of being in Lake O’Hara.”