ARTIST IN RESIDENCE DEATH VALLEY
In 2011 I was awarded the position of Artist in Residence in Death Valley.
For one month I lived and worked in the national park making paintings en plein air and in the studio provided. The studio - a huge red barn, exclusively for my use - opened directly onto the arid landscape of Death Valley. It was absolutely stunning and miles away from anything or anyone. I was also provided with generous accommodation in the closest town.
Apart from a curious local fella who dropped by a few times to play his flute, and an artist friend who joined me for a few days, I was entirely alone (and very happy!).
My first day involved a close encounter with Death Valley's most venomous snake, but, after that, things calmed down and I had an incredible time. I was lucky enough to be there in October when the weather is at its most forgiving. It was hot, sunny and clear most days and I was able to work with only a small 'heat break' in the middle of the day.
I drove to the residency from Washington DC where I was living at the time. The 2576 miles journey meant not only a great road trip but also enabled me to take a full studio set-up. Each morning I went out by car to different areas of the park and then explored further on foot. There was so much to discover and surprises around every corner. The biggest surprise was the variety of colour. There's an area called 'The Artist's Palette' - which certainly did not disappoint - and I saw these same colours repeated everywhere; tucked in crevices, leaching through cracks, or sprayed wide across vast landscapes.
I always took with me a sketchbook, a small set of paints and a camera. Sometimes it really was too hot to work outside and I sat in the car, but other times it was a total delight to sit quietly amongst the rocks/scrub and just work and watch things unfold. I discovered that the name of Death Valley is quite misleading; it is teeming with life; lizards, jackrabbits, coyotes, tortoises and many other creatures scuttled around.
Sometimes, in the afternoon, I would open the doors of the big red barn and paint long into the evening. This was my favourite time of day. There was a liminal moment when day turned to night and I'd pull up a chair and just watch. The colours were extreme, like the earth was on fire, but then I'd watch a cactus, so rich in colour and pattern, quickly switch into a silhouette and then, poof! the light was gone. I loved that moment; that switch! Darkness is truly dark in Death valley - it is a Dark Sky certified park.
At weekends I would sometimes drive to Las Vegas. It was 2.5hrs away and I went primarily to stock up on wholesome food, but, looking back, I think my actual motivation was to cruise along the highways surrounded by the extraordinary landscapes. Each trip involved self-initiated 'diversions', just to see what was there. I think the desire to just 'see what was there' was my gentle pursuit throughout this residency - perhaps throughout my life. And almost always, what was there was not what I expected to find.
Below are some of the works I made in an around Death Valley both during, and after, the residency