Wendover Art-making

While in Wendover I ran a bit, hiked a mountain, researched and worked on my thesis. I did some studies of the mountain I climbed to use as reference for my long scroll-like painting (pictures of that coming soon)…

In addition to the Field Notes book I am keeping, there is also a Field Journal I made. It is a hodgepodge of  papers, layers of ephemera collected on the trip, drawings and writing:

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The Wendover Experience

After our time at the Spiral Jetty on Utah’s Great Salt Lake we moved on to Wendover. It is a city “on the edge” crossing the Utah Nevada border (and also at the edge of all civilization?!). We stayed in the yard of the Center for Land Use Interpretation. We had our first showers of the trip, and we had our first indoor space in which to check emails and work out of the sun in the large workshop.

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View from the top of the wee mountain

Our visits to the salt flats were amazing. There was an evening dance-party while last year’s participant Kelly projected paintings onto the white moon-lit salty ground. I ran around in circles like a spaz, made some drawings by the light of the moon and generally had a blast. These pictures are from our visit to the flats during the day:

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South Base living unit with van:

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Spiral Jetty, UT

09.13.18

My run on the salty edge of the Great Salt Lake was slightly surreal, like running on another planet. Every site we’ve visited is kind of like that, but the colors at the Spiral Jetty enhanced the effect. Pinkish water lapping up against sharp, sparkling white salt under a crisp stretch of blue sky. The horizon lined with purple mountains and an island that at times looked connected to the soil underfoot – the trick of a mirage – and other times didn’t appear to be an island at all, and instead blended seamlessly into the mountain range behind it.

I ran 8.5 miles along the edge of the lake where salt meets sand.

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Field notes on Spiral Jetty run

 

Excerpt from my journal:

A place where the sand sounds like a tinkling chandelier, it is so encrusted with salt. It’s rippled and puckered like a vinyl sticker poorly adhered to the earth, or like a wrinkled bed sheet of mini mountain ranges. It’s so bright. I am kicking crystals. Crushing ice, sheets of it underfoot – will they crack? Will I fall through? Sharp granules cut my ankles.

Running here has a dizzying effect, the rise and drop of the little sand rifts. It’s like running in a bouncy house or on a trampoline when your legs receive different amounts of resistance or force. I’m running through a dilapidated cemetery, black rocks sinking and scattered. Lighter slabs of stone up the hill slopes to the north look like newer gravestones (they’re not – it’s all just rock).

The rest looks like what I imagine the Australian Outback to look like.

I cannot judge any distance here.

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The salty pink of the lake

 

Goblin Valley, UT

09.11.18

On my birthday we swam in the Colorado River. It was splendid. I have a different relationship to water since being on this trip.

ARROYO RUN

The first morning at Goblin I set out to explore the hills surrounding the valley. I scampered up one slope but found the soil to be very soft and each step slid down a foot or so, creating a small cascade of dirt and rock shards. At the top of the little peak I surveyed the landscape, odd bulbous rock formations created by erosion, framing a dry flat basin in the middle of which snaked an arroyo. I realized quickly that I was more likely to get myself buried in a landslide than I was to successfully skirt the top of the ridge or climb any higher. So I descended and dropped down into the dry arroyo. I followed the dry river bed south for 4 miles or so. The walls of the arroyo were at times more than twenty feet high and arching into a giant dome-like structure. Some of those walls were brown, striated with white harder rock forming a spider-web of light lines across the surface. The soil underfoot was for the most part firm, though here and there a soft patch surprised me, and my foot sunk into the wet. Farther south a few inches of water appeared, and I dunked my hat a few times to cool off. The sand was spotted with crystalizing salt here and there, and the mud in places was cracked and rolled up in sheets, making a satisfying crunch when stepped on.

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Rock formations at Goblin

After this run, the day turned windy as the heat picked up and the site became pretty unlivable. I hid in the cargo van where I could at least read a bit without my eyes filling with sand. Inside our tents were blankets of the finest brown that had sifted through the mesh and spread over all of our possessions. Seeing as this blowing sand was a not conducive to work, we left the site a day early and headed on to the Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake, Utah.

 

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Rock formations at Goblin

Muley Point, UT

09.10.18

Our second camp site was perched on Cedar Mesa overlooking Monument Valley thousands of feet below. The view was so stunning it seemed unreal, and I had to repeatedly tell myself I wasn’t looking at a post card or a television screen, but a real, vast expanse of land carved by wind and water.

A SCOUTING RUN

09.09.18 – Elise joined me for my first run at this site. After 1.5 miles she turned to make her run an even 3 miles. I continued out to Muley point, catching a view of the giant curve in the canyon, like the edge of a bowl, which wasn’t visible from our camp. I was able to cross 7 miles of dirt and get back in time for breakfast. Later, I rolled out a few feet of my canvas in the shade of a cedar. The day was heating up quickly and the others were scattered around the canyon with their separate projects and adventures. I thought maybe I’d paint the massive landscape spread out in front of me, or maybe attempt to map out the morning’s run… but as I sat in the dappled light of that cedar I decided to paint the shadow of the tree. I didn’t really paint the shadow though, I painted the line that delineated shadow and light. I got sap on my hands, butt and tools. I painted quickly as the light was shifting fairly quickly. After capturing the shadow directly on my little unrolled section of canvas I called it quits. I needed to sit in a breeze and try to cool of my face and head. Being too warm for too long just leads to heat exhaustion. Reading and sketching in my field notes and trip journal was all I managed for the rest of the day. A bad headache set in around 4PM and was with me all through the night.

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From my Land Arts journal (hand-bound art book)

A LONGER  RUN

09.10.18 – The following day I woke with the same headache as well as an ear ache and swollen eyes. There were so many good reasons to stay in bed. It was 5:30 and the site was silent. I decided I should at least try to run. It was quite the production collecting all my gear in the dark and setting out. Still incredibly drowsy, I left my tent, rounded it and headed towards the vans and kitchen to fill my water reservoir. After a few minutes of walking and looking at my feet by the light of my running waist lamp I stopped and looked around… and around… my light only lit up dirt, shrubbery and rock. I looked back towards the tents, but my lamp didn’t stretch far enough to illuminate them. We’d been warned that this was an isotropic landscape: a landscape that is the same in all directions. I chuckled at myself. Seriously? I just got lost in the 100 yards between my tent and the main camp? I didn’t really want to walk off the edge of the cliff so I just kept spanning my surroundings with the light. Then I remembered the compass clipped to my running vest and took a look. A quick correction led me immediately to the road and then to the two vans. Seeing as I was clearly capable of getting incredibly turned around in the dark, I stuck to the main road this run and put in 5 miles before breakfast. They were hard miles. My head ached, my sinus passages were on fire and my ear throbbed. I struggled up the hills and sought out the shallowest patches on the sandy road.

HOW MANY BREATHS DOES IT TAKE YOU TO MOVE ACROSS A LANDSCAPE?

At 7AM I put back two pine nut pancakes and some pain killers for my persistent headache. After dining and doing dishes I felt slightly better so this was my cue to try for more miles. This time I wanted to try something I had been thinking of for quite some time but hadn’t the patience to execute. I decided to count my breaths for the entire run. I made the following map to summarize some observations made during this run:

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Map of the “Breath Run”

The day continued with a great group hike out to another point and finished with sketchbook work and some watercolor painting. A very productive day.

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Map of group hike and sketch of cliff from campsite

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Rock formations from Muley Point as well as the Moon House, a cliff dwelling created by the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloan peoples between 1150 and 1300.

 

Cebolla Canyon, NM

09.07.18

A COLD NIGHT

Our first site on this grand adventure across the American Southwest was a campsite in a quiet valley off a dirt road in northern New Mexico. Our first camp set-up was a long one and consisted of pitching a large shade structure with tarps and aluminum poles under which the kitchen was erected, hauling out buckets of food and dishes and gear from the vans as the sun went down. Next, we scattered to pitch our tents – five of us pitched near one another without really conferring on it. New to sleeping out in this unfamiliar landscape, there was some comfort in being closer to one another I suppose. The sky threatened rain.

We sat together for dinner and then cleaned dishes in frigid water. We pulled camp chairs into a circle around a gas lantern and held our first seminar. We shivered noticeably in our sweatpants and layers of sweaters and wondered quietly in our heads if we had packed incorrectly. Weren’t we supposed to be too hot on this trip? I fretted slightly about how I would shake this chill but once I slipped into my sleeping bag I warmed up immediately to the point of sweating. Invest in good gear, then you can trust your gear. Being exposed to the elements 24/7 is no joke. It can lead to a world of discomfort.

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Field Notes cover
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Valley Outline – Cebolla Canyon

THE JACKPILE MINE AND LAGUNA PUEBLO

Our next day was with Curtis Fransisco, a Laguna tribal member and geologist who fed us a meal he had prepared and took us around the old town and various areas affected by the infamous Jackpile mine. The Jackpile mine is the largest deposit of uranium in the United States (and possibly the world?) We visited radioactive run-off that was apparently “hotter” than some of what you’d find at the mine itself. It was difficult to learn of the Native American community that had paid the heavy price of ruined health and spoiled land for the temporary profit the mine offered. Never have I felt more uncomfortable in a landscape, and I was only there for a day. After just a day’s visit, I don’t feel I know enough about this area to go on beyond these few sentences.

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Watercolor palette and sketches from the van

A TEMPO RUN IN THE VALLEY

The following morning, I managed a 5.5 mile run along the dirt road we came in on – only I continued on in the direction beyond camp where we hadn’t yet gone. It was near impossible to catch my breath – when on foot and not in the van, I realized just how hilly the terrain was. The 7700-foot elevation made itself known in the burning of my lungs. I hadn’t been able to run for four days though and felt cooped up in the car for two days, so I pushed the pace and freed my legs. I returned to camp in time to hike up the ridge with the group to view shards of painted pottery from countless years ago. From the top of the ridge you could see the entire valley I had just run an hour earlier. To think my body carried me that far was a tad baffling. I don’t often get the chance to see the distance I run from that vantage point. 2.7 miles never looked so far.

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some notes

 

Land Arts of the American West

Hi all,

It has been a crazy wonderful two years working on my Masters of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing at Texas Tech University, and thus I haven’t been posting on this blog. Currently I am in my third year of my Masters and working on my thesis as well as graduate show. I have joined the Land Arts program this fall and wish to update you, as well as professors and students back at Tech on my explorations, discoveries and progress out here in the field.

Taken from the Land Arts website ( https://landarts.org/ ):

Land Arts of the American West is a “semester abroad in our own backyard” attracting architects, artists, and writers from across Texas Tech University (and beyond) to investigate the intersection of human construction and the evolving nature of the planet. Land art, or earthworks, index the complex array of human activity shaping our world—petroglyphs, roads, dwellings, monuments and traces of those actions—to show us who we are. Our itinerary brings us six-thousand miles overland to experience major land art monuments—Double NegativeSpiral JettySun TunnelsThe Lightning Field—while also visiting sites to expand our understanding of what land art might be. We camp for two months witnessing pre-contact archeology at Chaco Canyon and infrastructure at Hoover Dam, as well as military-industrial operations in the Great Salt Lake Desert and scientific exploration at the Very Large Array. We experience remote sites like the north rim of the Grand Canyon and Gila Wilderness in addition to occupied zones such as Wendover, Utah and Marfa, Texas. As we travel we make our own work in the landscapes we inhabit to calibrate the expanding range of our examinations.

So… let’s get rolling.

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The passenger van at Cebolla Canyon, NM – our first site