Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Fat Grass Series

Fat Grass Country

I first moved to New Mexico when I was in the second grade. Since then, except for time off for good behavior as I joke, I have mostly lived in this magical state. And when I travel it isn't far. There seems no need to go beyond the edges of the Colorado Plateau. But a dear friend, born and raised in Raton, New Mexico, took me for a day trip into what he calls Fat Grass Country. It is where the volcanoes, which ring the Colorado Plateau, enrich the land with their volcanic ash and the grass grows deep and green especially this year with the rains. It is dominated by Capulin Volcano and other volcanic peaks, Johnson Mesa, and the clouds.

It was a photographer's dream on the day I went. All the empty country with shadowed peaks on the horizon. But not what I paint. I don't do green. But the Fat Grass Country or high plains had struck a cord. Before I knew it I had departed from my usual themes to produce, one by one, what I now call the Fat Grass Country series. This spring I want to return to explore more and no doubt photograph more. And paint more.

Home in the Fat Grass
20 x 30 Mixed Media on Artists Canvas
I will admit I began to paint my images of the high plains mostly for me. I had pictures of the landscape and other pictures of the antelope and long horns but none of them perfect. In paint it is easier to merge one with the other for me. And the fat grass country came along just when I was bored with horses bit. I photographer has to just be mildly interested to record a digital image but a painter has to be in love to devote the time to a painting. Especially so if you are going to put away all your reds and golds to paint with green. And not one painting but two.

Alone on the High Plains
 14 x 30 Watercolor on artists canvas
When I began the second I told myself it was the clouds that drew me. And I was willing to bring out the green paints just because of the colors in the clouds. Oddly Alone on the High Plains was done from a black and white photograph and my memory. I joke that I paint what it is you thought you saw when you took that photograph with your iphone. The truth is I paint what I remember I saw regardless of what the photograph I took with my mega pixel DSLR. The discrepancies between the two are why I do not do plein aire. The landscape I am trying to paint is always a major disappointment to me.

Two paintings do not make a series. I told myself it was just a diversion. A tithing to the muse to restart the creative juices.

The Empty Pew
18 x 12 watercolor on Artists Canvas
From inside Johnson Mesa church

But when I painted the third I had passed that magical number the FBI uses to define a serial killer. And I realized it was not the green or the antelope or the vistas I was trying to capture but the sense of aloneness which drove residents of the Kansas plains mad. But not quite that either because I have spent more time than I wanted on the Kansas plains. And maybe it is the elusive quality of living on top of a volcanic field which the high plains has and Kansas doesn't.

A volcanic rise

Maybe it is the feeling, even though in the course of the whole day I never saw another person not with my party, that if i stare long enough I will see the dust of a pickup on the expanse ahead, or the person who was just a moment ago saying a quite prayer in the empty church. There was not a rose on the pew in the photograph but it belonged in the painting. There was not a hat on the bench or an open hymnal on the piano before I painted it in. But I felt there should be.

Missing Melody
16 x 20 Watercolor on Artist's Canvas
Painting number four and I must call it a series because I know there will be more. As I delved through my photo files to get the photographs to accompany this blog I chanced upon the long horns. What is so magical about long horns?

There is an empty canvas in my studio just possibly the right size for a painting of long horns on the high plains deep in the fat grass.

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