These paintings were made from a series of images taken in USA (on a road between Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon). The two paintings vary in the handling of the paint and in intention. The first, using tightly controlled brushwork and precise observation, aimed to capture a sense of solid physical presence – the enormous immobility of these forms and something of their sculptural qualities. It was a long slow painting to make, taking about 6 weeks of full-time work. The second painting was made more rapidly. It is sketchily painted with thinner washed under-layers and highlights picked out with a loaded brush. In places the ground (raw linen) is untouched and in others it can be seen through the paint layers. In this painting I was interested in the transient nature of the geology; the economy of strokes representing their impermanent qualities and sense of ‘otherness’.
These Buttes were outside the national park and seemed to have an anonymity that those I saw in Monument Valley did not. They were not on the tourist trail and I liked the sense that perhaps they had not been acknowledged, creatively. Initially I drove straight past them, just observing them briefly. But after many more miles of driving I decided I had to turn around and go back. I am so glad I did because when I really had the time to look properly I thought they were wondrous.
Buttes are created as a process of erosion – when streams slowly cut through the plateaus. The hard top layers resist weathering and as a result, the formations stay about the same height as the original plateau. Eventually, even the harder top rock is also affected by weathering so the sides are covered in the scree that regularly falls.
When I made these paintings, I had just decided for health reasons to abandon my usual solvent and medium for something less toxic – refined walnut oil – which I have used ever since. It gives a good robust surface, doesn’t yellow over time and it dries slowly (a bonus for me as I like to work into the wet paint for quite a time).