Field Notes


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TBT Wyoming 2/08/18


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Winter Bridger-Teton National Forest 1/15/18   If roads were books US 189 north of Evanston, WY would have been authored by Cormac McCarthy. The vast swaths of light are both terrifying and serene. In contrast to towns like Jackson Hole, which are busy entry points, the towns here are adjacent to the wilderness and share its lonely qualities. Smoot, WY, population 32, is one of these. I always think everyone in Smoot must have a horse.


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In Retreat Wasatch Mountains 8/22/17    I have extended my stay at the cabin until winter.  The sound of wind in the Aspen grove is enough for a thousand contented hours and the colors change radically every day. The meadow began this week dressed in mauve with yellow bursts but I arrived this evening to find those colors replaced entirely with a wispy grey and purple wash. The Timothy grass has headed out. Winter is not far off. We’re at 9000 ft above sea level and snow will finally block the road access sometime in early October. I anticipate this cascade of changing color will accelerate through September. An extravaganza. Just one month left - I know it will go fast.

 


Hummingbird (not shown) Wasatch Mountains 8/4/17    I am working this month in the Wasatch Mountains, with the luxury of a cabin for a base camp. The wildflowers are abundant and indian paint brush and butter cup float in the under-canopy like grounded clouds. I brought some back to the cabin yesterday, confounding a humming bird who lives here. He has visited this arrangement often today. I would love to open the window to see what happens but I won’t. Probably. I won’t. But I do want to. Like with the Cheetos mouse in Joshua Tree, I’m both dismayed and delighted at the idea of feeding a wild animal. He’s been too quick to get a photo of so far. Stay tuned.

*Superthanks to Christian for the use of the retreat. It is magical.


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Avocado Death Valley Death Valley 2/10/17     This has been a totally weird trip. The silence is incredible. Everything is made of minerals and nothing seems provided for. For two days I considered returning to town to get some salt which I had forgotten. I could HEAR the idea approach. Avocados are so bland. I wish I had salt. Is it worth the trip back? No. Too far. Avocados are nice. They are nice with salt. Its funny that these rocks are made of salt. Salt is salt. Is this salt salt? That would be funny. Wait. Is this salt salt? I felt so happy. Salt! Salt, at least, is provided for in Death Valley.


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The Kangaroo Mouse Who Ate Cheetos Joshua Tree 9/24/16     Food manufacturers regard Cheetos as the “most perfectly engineered junk food” for its blissful combination of sweetness, saltiness and fat. In accord, I was eating Cheetos while reading the park’s educational flyer camped out on the desert last night when I felt a tiny tickling on my fingertip. My headlamp showed a cute creature, quietly sneaking orange Cheetos dust from my finger with its teeny paws. He hopped off quickly but I recognized him right away from my park flyer: Kangaroo Mouse (Dipodomys merriami). I was simultaneously delighted and dismayed at having fed the wildlife. I wonder how long he waited after smelling the world’s most perfect junk food, before sneaking over. I bet he didn’t pause at all actually, just like I didn’t when I’d spotted the bag in the last gas station before the park.


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The Safety of Discipline Joshua Tree 9/22/16     Working on color studies in Joshua Tree National Park today. The color changes in the light here baffled me after location scouting yesterday. I retreated to Albers' Interaction of Color exercises - to the safety of discipline. It helped and the group of small color studies might be the best work from the project yet. What a teacher.

"In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually." Josef Albers in Faber Birren (1976) Color Perception in Art. p. 20
"Anxiety is dead." Josef Albers in Robert Rauschenberg, Works, Writings and Interviews Sam Hunter, Ediciones Poligrafa, Barcelona, Spain 2006, p. 10

Grand Canyon

Project Origin Grand Canyon 9/19/16    In the winter of 1999 I lived in the Mission district of San Fransisco and worked at a flower shop in Noe Valley. The walk to work was long and I used it to try and memorize Bob Dylan's farewell poem to Woody Guthrie, written as Woody lay dying in Brooklyn State Hospital. I hoped to impress people one day by reciting it by a campfire or on a road trip. I'm still working on that. Last night, 17 years later, I still had to look it up on my phone to contribute it to the campfire entertainment. Its a 4 page poem so I'll skip to the best part at the end.

... You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You'll find God in the church of your choice
You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it's only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You'll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown
.

Bob Dylan - April 12, 1963

This week I get to sit each day to paint in Grand Canyon at sundown. There are quite a few others here each night, and Woody might really be, too. If you are inclined to follow the link, it is worth reading the poem all the way through.

 


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Where We Live Grand Canyon 9/18/16    Jewels, my travel partner, named her RV Divine Grace. Before getting out of bed each morning she lists things she is grateful for. I heard her laughing from her bed the first morning we woke up in the RV, in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.  "I am thankful to live in Divine Grace!" she called out. 

Now, a few weeks later we are set up here, about half a mile from the rim of the Grand Canyon. The rabbit bush is in bloom. and its tiny yellow flower causes the air to smell of warm honey. It has been raining today and a neon green is lighting up the desert. A rare time in a rare place to call home. Divine Grace.


Westbound Oklahoma 9/16/16


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Visitors Great Smoky Mountains 9/14/16     My favorite part of this process is talking with people in the parks while working. The reverence and respect for the wild natural world is so present in each person. I am already working when visitors arrive so I think I become a bit of park in their minds and some respect falls to me by association. I have to imagine that the National Parks love to be National Parks and receive that appreciation. I have been lucky to have some of it get on me. 


One Perspective Great Smoky Mountains 9/13/16   There is an old house painter named Carlyle in northern Vermont who I worked on a few jobs with in the early 2000's. He was a slight man, with gray skin and a constant frown, about 80 years old. In both work and words he was spare. He smoked cigarettes inside of the house and ashed into his shirt pocket.

One morning I spilled a cut bucket of paint onto a hardwood floor near a ladder Carlyle was seated on. It was the first time I heard him speak. "Ain't nothin' a blind man wouldn't be happy to see," he said, somewhat cheerfully. That has echoed in my mind and counters other more judgemental voices. I try to keep it close at hand when working plein air.


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Conservation Tip for Desert Plein Air Canyonlands 8/28/16    Katrina Lund lives in Moab, Ut and served as community artist for Arches National Park last year. Her works are ethereal washes of color that describe the rock here with tranquility. She spent some time schooling me in leave no trace techniques for painting in deserts. Turns out the desert surface is not sand at all, but rather a crusty bacterial nursery. It stores nutrients and water that incubate life in its earliest form.  The crust forms over centuries, but becomes loose sand in an instant when crushed under foot or tire.  The wind in Telluride Co, 100 miles to the east, now contains fine red sand picked up over the destroyed desert crust of the Canyonlands area.  The dust reddens the snow, which then absorbs extra heat, and results in premature midwinter melts.

Katrina's recommendation is to paint from the pavement pull offs rather than venture off trail for more remote views. The solitude of the back country is a short lived singular benefit, attractive but not worth the risk of damaging the centuries old crust. Plus, the pavement pulls offs provide stunning views and park visitors are excellent company.

Click here for additional tips on "leave no trace" practices.


kristen@kristenmitchellart.com