Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wild Iris Loop - A Storm is Brewing

Wild Iris Loop

It's a warm, winter day at the Alderfer Open Space. The tranquil hike is a regular walk in the park. Eastward, long shadows are cast toward a trio of rocky crags while puffy white clouds drift across a clear blue sky. Known as the Three Sisters, the local landmark is gleaming in the golden light.

The evening's events are routine. Black crows gather in the yellow stubble while a herd of wary deer emerge from the dark forest. In the summer, this place is a lively meadow full of riotous wildflowers. In March, it's a bowl of broiling, back-built maelstroms that bury the foothills in heaps of heavy snow.

Out for a lovely stroll, everything in my little world is just fine until suddenly the landscape changes. My peaceful promenade is interrupted by a disruptive squall of winter stew. Heavy clouds descend onto the scene and the panorama of sweeping, white peaks melts into the gray firmament.

Caught in an eerie forest of lodgepole pine, the murky dusk gets dark in a hurry. Cold seeps into my aching joints and a merciless wind spatters my face with ice pellets, bringing tears to my eyes. With a congenital determination, I ignore the pain and proceed full-steam ahead. I must get home and prepare for the difficulties looming on the horizon. A storm is brewing.

Alderfer Open Space Park

Clouds drift over the Three Sisters

Mule deer emerge from the forest

It's a routine event

A lively meadow in the summer

Heavy clouds descend

White peaks melt into the firmament

A broiling back-built storm

Difficulties loom on the horizon, a storm is brewing

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rockwell Kent - Searching for God in Greenland

"Early November: North Greenland"

It was the summer of 1929 and a small sailing boat named Direction cruised into Karajak Fiord off the west coast of Greenland. When a sudden williwaw struck, the overmatched vessel foundered leaving its three-man crew shipwrecked. Artist Rockwell Kent packed his rucksack and set off into the wild.

Kent hiked, climbed, scratched and clawed his way across the frozen tundra in a desperate search for help. After a three-day trek, Kent finally stumbled upon a lone kayaker fishing in the ocean. The native Greenlander guided Kent to a nearby village where the kindhearted locals rescued Direction and helped repair the damaged boat.

Rockwell Kent was an experienced adventurer, architect, carpenter, lobsterman, sailor, printmaker, illustrator, writer, dairy farmer and political activist but mostly he was a painter searching for God in the most desolate places on earth.

Rockwell Kent was born in 1882 in Tarrytown, New York and later studied at the New York School of Art under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. Kent perfected his craft painting seascapes off the rugged coasts of Maine and Newfoundland. By 1918, he was struggling to develop a personal style and was confused by the stormy art scene battering New York City.

Kent enlisted his nine-year-old son and fled to the wilderness. They reclaimed an abandoned cabin on tiny Fox Island and spent a year in Resurrection Bay, Alaska. On the water and in the shadows of massive, snow-covered peaks, Kent was reborn. It was there that he mastered wood engraving, created original paintings and illustrated a written journal about their quiet adventure.

Kent became an accomplished frontiersman. He once sailed all the way down to Tierra del Fuego and southward from the Strait of Magellan. There he climbed mountains and explored the maze of narrow waterways woven into the tip of South America.

Kent relied on the knowledge and experience gained from these excursions to execute powerful illustrations for a special edition of Moby Dick. The skillful integration of text and images was a tour de force of publishing. The project elevated Herman Melville's story to classic status and earned Kent heaps of deserved, critical acclaim.

During the '30s and '40s, Kent enjoyed celebrity status based on the success of his paintings, illustrations and adventure narratives. If art was Kent's religion, then Greenland was heaven. The icy paradise featured a spectacular landscape inhabited by an extraordinary population of indigenous people. Kent was able to paint, write and illustrate in isolated bliss.

Kent's Greenland paintings are masterpieces of simplicity, structure and light. He depicts the stark beauty of a forbidding landscape, expresses the awesome power of nature and man's fleeting, insignificant place within it. It makes you wonder how people survived in such a harsh environment.

It was the happiest, most productive time of his life and the paintings reflect a certain spiritual fulfillment. His reverence for the extraordinary land becomes obvious. The landscape is reduced to precise architectural forms. Fantastically shaped icebergs trapped in the sea ice are transformed into ghostly cathedrals bathed in an otherworldly light.

The Greenland paintings are not impressionistic attempts to capture fleeting light effects. They're heavy-handed, athletic and hard-edged. They're bold statements made en plein air, expressing the awesome power of Mother Nature and our helplessness when confronted by her. The paintings are not only works of art but also historical documents of a fascinating era in world history. They convey a certain truth not detectable in photographs taken from the same time period.

By the 1950s, Kent's outspoken views on socialism and pacifism got him into trouble. His art was shunned by galleries and museums across America because of his leftist ideology and perceived un-patriotic support for the Russia. Kent was accused of being a communist, denied his U.S. passport and required to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

In bitter retaliation against a paranoid U.S. Government, Kent gifted 80 paintings and 800 drawings to the Soviet Union. A treasure trove of unique, creative works were removed from American soil forever. Today, a new generation of art lovers, un-phased by political prejudice, have rediscovered the lost landscapes of Rockwell Kent.

"Brewing Storm. Monhegan"

"Sunglare: Alaska"

"Admiralty Sound: Tierra del Fuego"

"Squall. Greenland"

"Cloudy Day. Fjord in Northern Greenland"

"Greenland Coast"

"Seal Hunter: North Greenland"

"Road to Asgaard: Adirondacks"

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pikes Peak - An Inspirational Mountain

The majestic, purple mountain

Towering over Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak has been inspiring artists, explorers, gold seekers and presidents for over 200 years. In 1806, from out on the fruited plain, Zebulon Pike first beheld the majestic, purple mountain. He named it Grand Peak but early trappers and soldiers refused to call the megalith anything but Pikes Peak. Zeb felt compelled to climb the challenging alp as he led a party of trailblazers in a failed attempt to reach the summit. Upon his return, he wearily admitted that the mountain would probably never be climbed.

The half-marathon distance from base to the summit was finally attained in 1820 and by 1873 the U.S. Army had established a military installation at the top of Pikes Peak. President Ulysses Grant hoped that meteorological data gathered from the summit of the high peak would assist in predicting volatile weather patterns circulating toward the east. He believed the valuable information would be critical in forecasting the wicked storms which often sank freighters on the Atlantic Coast shipping lanes.

Massive Pikes Peak dominates the southern skyline and is an enduring symbol of the entire Front Range. When gold rushing 59ers set out for Cherry Creek and Denver in a quest for mineral riches, they emblazoned their rickety wagons in fresh paint with the famous words "Pikes Peak or Bust!" Katharine Lee Bates was so inspired by the extraordinary view from the pinnacle that she wrote the lyrics to America the Beautiful. The popular anthem is a superb tribute to the unique beauty and vastness of the American landscape.

An inspirational mountain

Under spacious skies

Zebulon Pike thought the peak would never be climbed

By 1873 a military base operated at the summit

Pikes Peak dominates the skyline

"Pikes Peak or Bust!"

Katharine Lee Bates was inspired by the views

Unique beauty and vastness

The yellow-bellied marmot is a local inhabitant

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Osprey - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Florida Osprey" Colored Pencil

It's a nature moment in the Sunshine State. Florida is a birder's paradise flush with a multitude of exotic birds. Perched on a weathered post, a hungry osprey clutches its impressive catch. Bathed in a golden light, the raptor's vermillion wings contrast with the muted turquoise sky. The regal head is defined by an array of tufted feathers and bright yellow eyes. The razor-sharp beak and arching eye-stripe are beautiful, dark accents.

Sometimes called a sea eagle, the majestic osprey is neither hawk nor eagle, it's in a class of its own. This "Lord of the Waterways" is outfitted with a tackle box full of adaptations that make it one of the world's foremost fishers. Huge, powerful wings are composed of water-resistant feathers. When submerged underwater, the osprey has closable nostrils and third eyelids which act as semi-transparent goggles. The broad feet are lethal, featuring curved talons, an adjustable outer toe and heavily scaled soles barbed with spicules that provide a non-slip grip.

Watching this bird of prey in action is an incredible experience. The osprey soars overhead and uses its remarkable vision to locate large fish swimming near the surface of lakes, slow-moving rivers and reservoirs. It hovers in mid-air and then makes a dramatic, feet-first dive. The feathered missile crashes into the water producing a huge splash. The startling reemergence of the drenched bird with its slippery prey in tow is a fitting conclusion to the morning's electrifying sequence of events.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Simplification in Art - An Arduous Process

"Longs Peak, Colorado" Acrylic

My childhood was spent roaming the sandhills of western Nebraska. We rode horses, swam the river and climbed Courthouse Rock. I come from a family of creative artists. Our little house on the prairie overflowed with color and creativity.

Mom paints her garden with a floral palette while Dad is a Western artist and retired high school art teacher. There were no formal lessons for my two younger brothers and I, just an endless supply of paper, pencils and encouragement.

We worked independently but sometimes we’d tape several sheets of parchment together and make gigantic murals of exotic animals, sports figures or Star Wars battles. Dad never led us down the path. Instead, we each struggled to find our own voice in a forest full of noise.

After four years studying fine art in the whispering pines of Charon State, my wife and I grabbed the world by its tail and settled in Denver. Years passed as I worked commercially depicting American sports idols for covetous collectors. Life in the big city became a storm of complication.

Evergreen is that magical place situated on the other side of the rainbow. Upon arriving, we discovered a land of silvery aspen where bluebirds fly, red foxes hide and each morning begins with a golden sunrise. Away from the confusion of suburbia, I found more time to simplify the work. The true essence of nature became obvious.

To simplify is difficult. I like to choose a motif and use all of the senses in a thorough examination. Observe the subject intensely and memorize the attractive, essential features. My camera is an indispensible tool in the process. It’s a digital eye that freezes a fleeting moment in time.

Spectacular landscapes are much harder to break down because in one’s enthusiasm to replicate the scene, the inclination is to include every detail. Unfortunately when that happens, the soul of a place becomes lost and the expression becomes complicated and troublesome to grasp.

If I’m lucky, I’ll dream about a work in progress. Then it’s almost as if the simplification becomes interwoven into the subconscious. In technical terms, the art theory is surprisingly simple. More contrast and colors equals complex, while less contrast and colors equals simple.

I’ve learned much from a deep appreciation of art history. The first cave paintings are sophisticated simplifications that exhibit a graceful elegance. Creating beautiful abstractions by eliminating unnecessary details while preserving the spirit of the whole is something artists have been striving to achieve ever since.

The temptation to emulate my artistic heroes was irresistible but our father preached from the pulpit of originality. He urged us to stay true to ourselves and not be influenced by what others are doing. We were challenged to develop interpretations unspoiled by imitation, criticism and wealth.

My approach is not formulaic. It’s been a matter of accepting and embracing my natural style while resisting the ever-changing, fashionable trends. An eternal mystery to me is how an emotion conceived in the heart emanates into an eager left hand where it’s delivered by pencil point for all the world to see.

My preferred substrate for working in colored pencil must have a medium-toothed texture so when the color is applied tonally in translucent layers, flecks of white paper will show through. This remarkable technique concludes with a drawing that sparkles with light.

Spending dull years painting commercially to please a fickle audience, I was caught up in the competitive affectations of photorealism. A fascinating movement but if executed improperly the results can be cold and lifeless. I’ve chosen to follow my heart and return to a little box of wooden crayons.

I began listening to the old masters from the past. Winslow Homer advised, “Never put more than two waves in a picture, it’s fussy.”

Robert Henri whispered, “If the artist’s will is not strong he will see all kinds of unessential things.”

Andrew Wyeth declared, “When you lose your simplicity, you lose your drama.”

The simplification of my style has been a gradual, uncalculated transformation. An arduous process chocked full of confusion, doubt and failure but in the end it’s worth it. For a humble truthseeker like me, it’s been a revelation to discover that the simplest things in life are often the truest.

"Evergreen Lake, Summer" Colored Pencil

"Evergreen Lake, Fall" Colored Pencil

"Gore Range Thunderstorm" Colored Pencil

"Gore Range Wildflowers" Colored Pencil

"Mule Deer" Colored Pencil

"Self-Portrait" Colored Pencil