Saturday, June 27, 2015

Elk Meadow - A Melancholy Mood

Elk Meadow twilight

“Here comes the rain again. Falling on my head like a memory.” ~ Annie Lennox

Since it has rained almost every day, this spring has supplied us with a silent calm before the sunny season explodes with activity. Currently composed from an everlasting arrangement of cool coloration, the meadow is in a melancholy mood.

There’s not even a peep from the ruckus normally raised by the usual profusion of feathered friends. Under a watercolor sky, the only sign of life in this interesting landscape is a scattering of mule deer.

Marching up the muddy trails in such tranquility is like sleepwalking into an eerie atmosphere. During the storms, dense fog descends from a steel sky and a veil of steamy mist rises out of the soggy earth.

This season, being immersed in the dark beauty of low light is like waking from a fading dream. Enjoy it because a sizzling summer will begin soon and the rain will be just a hazy memory recalled by the fragrance of abundant wildflowers.

It's rained almost every day

A melancholy mood

A watercolor sky

A scattering of mule deer

An eerie atmosphere

Another storm over the meadow

A veil of fog and mist

The earth is soggy

Dark beauty of low light

The rain will be a memory

Abundant wildflowers

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Thomas Hart Benton - An American Artist

Self-Portrait with Rita

Recently, Evergreen Fine Art Gallery held an exhibit of work by American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975). The outstanding collection consisted of sketches, studies, lithographs and small paintings.

I’ve seen many of his more polished pieces hanging on museum walls in Missouri but the artwork shown in Colorado was more intimate. Here on paper, the artist’s search for a subject’s form was clearly evident.

Born in Neosho, Missouri to a family of politicians, Thomas Hart Benton chose painting as his profession. Benton began studying at the Chicago Art Institute and continued his training in Paris where he met some of the leading artists of the day.

After a stint in the Navy serving as an illustrator during World War I, Benton set up shop in New York City. His early paintings were influenced by the avant-garde but seem uncertain and confused.

Benton eventually embraced his natural style and became inspired by the music, folk tales and working class of rural America. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he co-founded the realist art movement known as Regionalism.

Benton’s large-scale, historically-themed paintings were controversial but they also garnered him great notoriety as a muralist. In the mid 1930s, Thomas Hart Benton appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and was probably the most popular artist working in America.

Benton was also a respected instructor at the Art Students League of New York where he taught the next generation of emerging artists. His prized pupil was a rowdy young man from California named Paul Jackson Pollock.

Under Benton, students were grounded in the fundamentals of composition, drawing, painting and art history. During class, Pollock learned about the importance of structure, preparation and patience.

While they were together on a summer sketching tour of the western United States, Tom extolled the virtues of realism. Benton was like a father-figure to Pollock who eagerly absorbed his mentor’s ideas.

Later though, Pollock changed course and rebelled against realism as he sky-rocketed to fame during the abstract expressionist movement. Many people believe Jackson Pollock is the greatest American painter of all-time.

Frustrated by the people, politics and lifestyle that typified the Northeast, Benton vehemently rejected abstract art and returned to his homeland. Back in the Show-Me-State, he accepted a teaching position at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Always on the go, Benton was a hard living son-of-a-gun whose work ethic was undeniable. He spent so much time preparing sketches, studies and sculpted models that by the time he put brush to board, the painting was finished in a flash.

Benton’s work is a mix of the academic and the modern. His reverence for the Old Masters is blended with his knowledge of the new. His finished paintings are remarkably simplified as all unnecessary details are ruthlessly eliminated.

Benton’s artwork is athletic, it exudes a dynamic masculinity that features strong lighting and bold coloring. His billowy compositions seem to flow like sheet music as his elongated figures swirl dramatically across the scene and look like they’ve been chiseled out of granite.

Critics called him stubborn, arrogant and outspoken but armed with a confrontational disposition, Benton was never afraid to fire back. As a matter of fact, it was his vitriolic rants leveled against the art establishment that cost him lucrative jobs.

After World War II, extreme abstraction steamrolled through the art world. The recognizable form was destroyed as paint was splashed and splattered onto canvases across the country. Benton’s Regionalism was dismissed as a sentimental caricature of days gone by.

Relegated to a mere footnote in most art history books, the Regionalists have recently been rediscovered. A new appreciation for their philosophy and work definitely warrants further study.

At a time when the art world was consumed with all things French, Benton broke from European Tradition and traveled to our heartland where he romanticized the regional scene.

He was a strong-willed searcher from Missouri that always lived life on the edge. Thomas Hart Benton was a teacher, writer, musician and most truly of all, an American artist.

Arts of the West

Cradling Wheat

Desert Still Life

Lewis and Clark at Eagle Creek

People of Chilmark

Plowing it Under

Sheepherder

Sources of Country Music

The Wreck of the Old 97

Time Magazine Cover (1934)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Shrine Pass - A Remarkable Passageway

Shrine Pass, Colorado

Up at the apex of Vail Pass there's a bumpy side-road that will take you even higher. Once a vital link between the Blue and Eagle River valleys, Shrine Pass is now considered a scary shortcut to Red Cliff but it's more than just that.

Shrine Pass is a remarkable alpine passageway traversing the spine of a continent. The high altitude realm is know for deep snow, rock slabs and cold silence. An evening arrival will offer unfiltered light and long shadows.

Perched on top of the world, a birds-eye view features a circular array of snowy peaks. From this lofty throne, you'll command views of the stupendous Sawatch, tremendous Ten Mile and gorgeous Gore Ranges.

The roll-call of mountain chains within reach of your retina is impressive. Our late fall visitation was a fantastic experience but I'm looking forward to a warm weather return when the hillsides are transformed into a wildflower wonderland.

A bumpy, dirt road

An alpine passageway

A high altitude realm

Deep snow

Rock slabs

Cold silence

Unfiltered light and long shadows

Perched on top of the world

An array of snowy peaks

Late fall

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Juniper Pass - A Lofty Nemesis

Juniper Pass, Colorado

"Always do what you are afraid to do." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

At the pinnacle of Squaw Pass Road there's a crossways notch in the landscape known as Juniper. Often overlooked on the way to Echo Lake, the route is garnished with dangerous cliffs, perilous drop-offs and extreme vertigo.

Here, the Mount Evans Wilderness is a wide expanse of pristine terrain, timber and terror. Crowned with snow-capped peaks, the dramatic composition is classic Colorado. It's a solitary confrontation with a lofty nemesis.

A narrow strip of spruce and fir forest clings to the sheer headwall while stately cypresses of juniper decorate the edge of this rugged realm. Scrambling across this exposed ridge in the open air is a harrowing experience.

Trekking through the forbidding gap will challenge your strength, athleticism and acrophobia but during these times of turmoil and chaos, an indispensable courage will be summoned from places unknown.

Fortunately, the seldom climbed crags are secretly hidden in a beautiful, sub-alpine setting. Just below the Continental Divide at 12,00 feet, what better place to face one's fear than straddling this frightening watershed.

At the pinnacle of Squaw Pass Road

Steep cliffs ahead

Perilous drop-offs

Mount Evans Wilderness

A wide expanse of pristine terrain

Snow-capped peaks

A narrow strip of spruce and fir

A rugged realm

An exposed ridge

A forbidding gap

The crags are hidden

A frightening watershed