Monday, November 24, 2008

Ajo Spirits

Ajo Spirits is the name of a painting I did in the early 1990s. "Ajo" refers to a mountain range in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in which we found this scene. The title also alludes to an almost supernatural presence I feel whenever I'm in places like this.

The white vertical structure is the skeleton of a saguaro cactus. After they die, the fleshy part of the cactus dries up and falls away, leaving the skeleton which, in time, also falls apart, scattering poles on the desert floor. In fact, this particular skeleton is no longer there--I've tried to find it during subsequent trips to Organ Pipe, luck.

The paintings I made in the late 1980s-early 1990s were in a photorealistic style -- very detailed, and very accurate as far as showing exactly what was there. Since then, however, I work more in the style of my artist hero of the 19th century, Thomas Moran. Sometimes he showed a place as it really looked but idealized the scene somewhat--or a lot, depending on the mood he wanted to create. Other times, all he wanted was the overall look of a place and took some liberties in the process.

I've discovered factors such as mood, lighting, composition and all those other tricks artists use work better if the artist isn't trying to reproduce the landscape exactly as it appears. Like Moran's, my paintings definitely have recognizable elements in them, but I may add or remove other elements if they don't add strength to the painting.

In fact, implying a sense of the spiritual is the most important aspect of my work. I'm not sure if I always succeed of not -- sometimes it's hard to tell when I'm so close to the paintings. I sure hope you and other viewers get the message I want to convey -- the spirit of the desert.

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