Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Campgrounds and 3 Paintings

Portagee Joe Campground

Just west of Lone Pine off the Whitney Portal Road. A small creek, actually an irrigation ditch trickles down the middle of the sandy sites. Here I met Sue, newly launched on a slow camping loop through the western states, setting out in winter from Montana in a vintage trailer that had belonged to her parents. Mouldering quietly out in a back yard for many years until she began her solid and pretty restoration. She shared her trailer and I shared my paintings. The next morning she knocked on my door carrying a book of photos of her daughter with the first grandchild, a very sweet  girl baby who had survived brain damage during childbirth. She lived for only six months, fragile and much loved. Sue asked me would I accept a commission to make a color painting of a favorite black and white photo of her daughter and the baby girl, and I gave it my best quick sketch in acrylic. She liked it a lot and paid me fifty dollars for a morning's work!  I had hoped to visit more with Sue, but she had to cut her Eastern Sierra sojourn short and return to Montana to see her doctor. I pray she will be restored to good health and that I will see her again in January. If so I will post pics of her vintage trailer--it's a beauty.

And here are two photos from the area west of Lone Pine, Lone Pine Peak and a path through the big rocks in the Alabama Hills.

Independence Creek Campground

Hard freeze Dec 3-9 made Independence Creek ice up, blocking the waters which then flooded the north side of the campground and produced the ad hoc Independence Ice Rink.  Every day Water and Power guys drive into the campground, circumambulate the ice flood, speak loudly and gesticulate, and then drive off. I hope they are not planning something drastic with a bulldozer. I have already had to move my campsite once due to having gone to sleep in an empty campground, but woken up surrounded by deer hunters next morning, their huge trucks, troop tents, toybox trailers, auxiliary ATVs, noisy gasoline generators, and finally, dead, skinned deer hanging from the trees.  Mercury still plunging towards zero at night. I am grateful for a just-in-time early Christmas present from Kate: a new comforter, very poofy and warm!

Sheltered inside my Santa Fe Treehouse on Tires, I painted these two winter tree pix.

Owens River Willow Gnawed by Beavers.

Although one fisherman I talked to said it's not beavers, it's the range cows that chew willow wood to groom their teeth and to lick the aspirin compounds out of it.  Looks like beaver action to me, but black cows and their calves do roam the bottom lands. Shortly after I took this picture last fall, the trunk cracked apart and fell into the river.

A Year Spent at Leisure in the Shelter of the Crazy Trees--wintertime

Without planning it, I've been producing a series of paintings that contain three cottonwood trunks and a white trailer very much like my own. Rather more pasted than parked into the scene like a settling dirigible. The Crazy Trees have become the guardians of a feeling of sanctuary, not because they are kindly (they are not, they are crotchety) but because nobody else will park near them, since old, overgrown, diseased and damaged cottonwoods tend to drop branches, or even split down the middle and fall over.

Well that's all the news that's fit to paint, Cheers from Inna keeping it warm on on 395.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Borrego or Bust

In early October, I hitched up my Santa Fe cigarbox trailer to my Tacoma pickup and drove blue highways to Borrego Springs, accompanied by stalwart old friend and sister-by-proclamation Kate Thornton. She met up with me in Barstow and we lumbered slowly down 247, The Old Woman Highway, to Yucca Valley where she treated me to steak dinner and amenity-rich ovenight stay in a motel. Next day we drove south 40 mph against a stormy, rainy headwind along the western shore of Salton Sea and west into Anza Borrego. Ocotillo and creosote all around us green from the late monsoons.

There's a new gallery in Borrego Springs: The Borrego Art Institute. A mid-century modern style building all boarded up and wasting away on Christmas Circle was rescued by inspired and diligent local volunteers and contributors and presented to the Mojave in splendid restoration and repurposition. They had posted a Prospectus to Artists -- bring 5 pieces to the gallery between Oct 5 and 10, and get a jury pass/fail on the spot for inclusion in Flora and Fauna show. I unloaded my entries and I passed muster! Our show reception was busy and colorful and I managed to find a buyer for one of my series of small owls.

Check it out: (this show is now archived)


I had planned to remain in Borrego Springs dry camped at Peg Leg 10 miles from town, possibly until December, but after two weeks there, I knew I couldn't stick it out. The valley is a rocky sandbox bounded by low mountains, containing sculpted mud playgrounds for off-road vehicle fans and creosote plains for winter RV parking for snow-birds. A haven for restless people; but even as a restless person myself, I was homesick.

I felt no spiritual connection to anything in Anza Borrego.

Spiritual reality is not airy-fairy, wispy, dreamy, moody or intellectual. It is physical, or rather, our spiritual being is usually manifest to us as physical experience in the material world. A good spirit can be an experience of nourishment, affection, communion. A sensual closeness with stones, plants, air, spatial arrangement, the tilt of the land, the color of the light. In Borrego I felt my roots withdraw from the ground; I was truncated, clumsy, burdened.  Local food tasted metallic. It was either too windy or too quiet to breathe.  No streams, lakes, river, ditches, or canals.  I could not paint, I could not write. I had felt similarly oppressed in Death Valley -- now I think I can guess why: no water. Eastern Sierra waters flow out of the mountains down the escarpment into the valley, and as dry as it has been these past two years of dry winters, there is still water streaming out of the mountains into the land. I wonder if this watershed is what founds and informs my sense of feeling "at home" in that country, and appears in my paintings as a harbinger of spiritual feeling, or longing for home.

I drove away through Joshua Tree and Kate met me again in Yucca Valley and escorted me again, returning on 395 under a light storm through the Johnson and Lucerne Valleys, past Barstow to Kramer Junction, then on through the tailings piles of Red Mountain and Johannesburg, past black and red volcanic forms in the Coso Range and past the salt and soda of dry Owens Lake, Cartago, Olancha and finally Lone Pine. I resumed photographing and painting the next day.

I will be spending the winter again in Owens Valley campgrounds, keeping faith with the series of paintings I began 3 years ago, camped at Independence Creek.

More later .... I have new paintings to post as soon as I declare them ready, and a solo show opening at Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest in January 2014.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Power and Paintings

Have you ever driven to two hardware stores just to match and a buy a few right-sized screws or one more butt splicer?  Done did that DIY Duh Dance more that once this summer -- but on August 21, 2013, I crimped up the last in-line fuse on a red wire and called the intrepid Winford over to spot me while I piled the ring terminals on my battery posts. Good thing he was there -- I couldn't get all the terminals to fit on the positive post, due to a heavy ground lug. He boosted me over the finish line by finding an adaptor to extend the positive terminal capacity, and yeehaw woohoo! All the lights went on -- I am charging my house battery by the free energy of sunlight! 
And can charge the cellphone, the camera, and the laptop, play the radio, juice the speakers, etc.  Under the plastic horse below is my "Widget Board" where the battery snoop, the solar charge controller, the switch to the cig-socket bank, and the inverter switch are all at-hand. The second photo is of the battery, cables, inverter and fuses stashed under my dinette seat where I sit to eat, paint, read and write:

Now I can see by the light of the sun when only the stars are shining. I will be leaving my job at the trailer park and returning to sage brush and silence at the end of September. Where I can recharge my soul-batteries, walk and breathe and sleep, and where poems and paintings appear in my mind commanding my happy attention.

This summer my air conditioner kept me comfortable inside my trailer for painting, instead of running off to fish in lakes at cooler elevations. A good match for the season, since the fishing in Bishop Canyon lakes this year has been frustrating, almost futile, due to lack of water. I have stashed my rods and tackle box for another place, another time ...

 Thunderstorm in a canyon

 Bishop Canal, autumn

Water trees in a waterless year

Red Horse and Rider

G'bye Bishop, next post from somewhere else. Dear reader, please say a prayer for me for a safe transition!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Art Discovery

Google Images Introduces:

a new-to-me painter, Hans Hartung. I used a search string something like "scribbles" or "abstract drawing" (can't remember exactly) and discovered works by this early 20th century European abstract painter in the hits window. If I have seen these images before in art books years ago, they escaped my notice. 

Reeds, hair and grasses, life forms found everywhere in nature, most often noticed by photographers such as Harry Callahan and Eliot Porter. Sometimes labeled a calligraphic style built on processions of lines, repeating lines with leaning and curling, bundling into components related to the mass; linear forms similar to the warp and woof woven patterns I hear in compositions by Philip Glass and Arvo Part.

I think my use of lines in images I nevertheless call "paintings" participates in this formal tradition. I have just finished a new painting built up on linear forms exposed by winter's annual dessication -- my subject was a marshy area in the pastures of Round Valley last winter.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Spring Paintings from Autumn Memories

The visual subjects that have inspired paintings below were preserved in photographs taken during autumn of 2012. Why they endure as compelling images for me and why I return to paint them is the expression of strong feelings, pooled in my memory and distilled in my mind, that arise in response to elements such as fall colors, red horses, gnarly tree trunks, late afternoon flared light and its contrasting shadows. 

A white trailer parked against a background of  cottonwood, willow, or red birch tree trunks is a happy subject for me, I think my 1964 Santa Fe spam can harbors a rather jaunty, light-hearted presence encamped among winter's shabby, labyrinthine clumps of leafless trunks and branches that crowd the banks of the watershed.

(above)A Year Spent at Leisure in the Shelter of the Crazy Trees
 I think this coming autumn I shall remove from the center of town back to the BLM campgrounds on high alluvial plains of the Eastern Sierra escarpment.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spring Toot to Death Valley

The Painted Earth

My dear friends Kate and Jerry drove up to Bishop for a visit and whisked me away for an all-too-brief tour of Death Valley. Thunderstorms cooled and clobbered the skies and we traveled through rainy and windy patches of road on Hwy 190 out of Lone Pine.  We stayed a night in the motel at Panamint Springs, had a picnic lunch at Furnace Creek Ranch, and toured Bad Water, Zabriskie Point, Darwin Canyon and the Artists Drive and Palette. Veteran campers of the area, Kate and Jerry knew their way around and had many memories to share. We saw coyotes, road runners and a golden eagle; an easy Maytime ramble across the deadly, lovely desert.

During our drive around the Artists Drive loop, I became aware of feeling nervous around the crumbling colored earths since they resemble colors I have seen in mine tailings, although tailings colors are rather faint next to Artists Palette. I don't mean I thought it would hop over and bite me, just a sensation of discomfort when I should be feeling happy about pretty colors.

Below: Artists Palette, Golden Hillsides near Golden Canyon, and a face I found among my vistas (if you can't see it, try squinting). 

At home I consulted with Big Google to find out why colorful earths in mine tailings are toxic whereas the exposed Artists Palette hillside's metallic oxides generally are not. Turns out that crushing rocks releases natural arsenic!  A lot of metal-rich rocks, such as gold and silver ores, are richer in arsenic than your garden variety granite, and these ores are pulverized in the extraction process. When mercury is added to this "slurry"  to bind up gold out of powdered gold ore, it forms amalgam clumps, out of which the mercury evaporates when heated, leaving the gold pure and the surrounding air very toxic. But of course some mercury always remains in the left over mud and is tossed out on the tailings piles.

I continued prospecting to find out more about earth colors. I dug up a swatch book available to assist the analysis of soil composition by color: the Munsell System of Color Notation ( Compare the colors of soils from anywhere on the planet by hue, value and chroma -- just like printers and painters do! Generally red, pink and yellow earths are iron soils, green comes out of glauconite (mica), and manganese spades up purple-blacks. Wet soils lose oxygen and become gray, the gray mud sediment that forms the banks of the upper Owens River. Dry soils take up oxygen and colors bloom; iron oxide colors red and yellow cliffs and sands all over the Southwest, where sedimentary layers have be drying out colorfully for millenia. 

I believe the first artitsts did not look directly at reality and try to copy it, but rather it was from looking at natural forms and envisioning in them "looks-like" figures that inspired the first construction of artistic forms such as "looks like" figures drawn onto rock walls, or pottery surfaces, or woven into baskets. It was earth that tutored the first artists in the necessary imaginative abstraction of painting and gave them colors with which to paint it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


End of April - beginning of May will be the anniversary of my move to the Eastern Sierra three years ago. I have survived retirement from full-time work, learned to fish for trout, and begun a series of paintings of local subjects in a fresh style, of which these are the most recent:

 Edge of the Pasture, Big Pine, winter

 Independence Creek, early spring

Winter Stream, Blue Heron

I have made a happy home for myself in my (unrestored but congenial) Vintage Trailer, and I have just installed my first air conditioner -- ever! --in the window over the kitchenette sink. An air conditioner in the heat means I can stay in my trailer and paint this summer, and I expect I will sleep better. Fishing season opened today, which means I will motor up to the lakes and pines, sit in a chair by cool waters and read or daydream until some life force in the dark water beyond jerks the bubble below surface and I must rise and reel in the silvery thrashing entity to shore...if I can, if it doesn't jump into the air and shake out the hook like a bronc in a rodeo shakes off a cowboy... the classic happy pastimes of Retirement are mine: painting and fishing!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Gorge

The first colors of spring in Owens Valley are reddish. Brick reds, rusts, oranges, maroons, glowing out of grey coyote willow, white alders, red birch, black willow nests. I have been fishing where Owens River flows down through a gorge carved by its waters into the pink tuff of the volcanic table land, from the Gorge Power Plant to Pleasant Valley Dam. Fishing buddy Winford provides a little red wagon in which we haul our jackets, tackle boxes, poles and snacks along the three mile road cut into the rocky eastern side, looking into the water below for a likely spot, then scrambling and sliding down to river's edge to fish. Mornings were sunny and pleasant, but one afternoon the wind funneled down into the gorge and blew the water upstream in waves -- I felt like I was fishing at the seashore.

The Lake by Pleasant Valley Dam

Winford resting near the power plant at the north end of Pleasant Valley Reservoir
Along the river in the Gorge

Three pictures of reddish spring by the river below the dam; a fisherman's path through the willow, a ditch gate to direct water through a pasture, and a willow chewed by beavers:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Paintings at the Pomona Arts Colony

 Clam Samurai in Squashed Clam Chowder Can Kimono

Full Moon Ghost Crab

 Crab Claw Cupcake on the Halfshell

 The Last One Abalone

 Thinly Sliced Something Fishy on Toast

I have paintings hanging in two galleries of the Pomona Arts Colony.
Old Downtown Pomona, gone almost derelict after its heyday in the 1950s, had become a small town SoHo for artists in the Pomona Valley, and recently was declared an Arts Colony of Los Angeles County.

Shows at the dA Gallery and BunnyGunner :

Simply Red --

All U Can Eat --

opened on the monthly 2nd Saturday Art Walk night of February 8, 2013.  The steets were busy with visitors to galleries, bistros, vintage goods shops and bars, a concert, and a street fair. I saw an interesting art show presented by the Walking Gallery: a conga line of young people circled the block holding paintings up for view and chanting their mission. They shared the sidewalk with a mobile Samba Drumming Band, mostly women in tight shiny short shorts marching with huge drums and racks of percussion instruments, following a leader in khaki blowing a loud whistle. At Simply Red a group of gowned and tuxedoed singers sang arias from Italian Opera. At Simply Red at the dA Gallery I am showing Red Horsehead and Red Birch Heart Valentine (photos posted in previous blogs). Above are photos of five of my paintings at the All U Can Eat show at Bunny Gunner:
All of these are acrylic on 5" x 7" cradled board, a size specified by the gallery (no bigger than 5x7) that presented a challenge to me and I painted them 'specially for this show, with a Seafood (see-food, get it???) theme -- I suppose they have a literary dimension that makes them kinda cartoons. It's been fun and I hope to do more like them. The gallery at bunny Gunner is a single very large room and hundreds of small paintings by many artists were hung in vertical rows side-by-side with the name of the artist at the top of his/her row. Fascinating to see so many styles, subjects, themes, medias all together -- the gallery encourages participants to paint food for "All U Can Eat" and the show does have a fully-loaded buffet table or downtown cafeteria feel to it. One idea of this show is to offer small-sized and affordably-priced art works that young or beginning art collectors can buy. Well,  I didn't sell anything, but the show is wonderful to behold!

My inclusion in these gallery shows came about through the renewal of an old friendship. I had met Kate Thornton in High School and we stayed friends through our 20s in the LA area. By 1990 we had gone our separate ways into other adventures, careers and relaltionships, and we fell out of touch. Last July Kate contacted another old friend, Bonnie Barrett, whom I had also lost and found again, and learned my whereabouts from her. We began a joyful email rediscovery and I learned she had become a published writer of detective and sci-fi stories. She had also taken up painting and had become a member of the Pomona Arts Colony community, especially the dA Gallery where she volunteers and sits on the Board.  Bonnie, and husband Jim, met myself and Kate, with husband Jerry, for a fancy dinner out and some gallery hopping. The recovery and resurgence of my friendships with Kate and Bonnie at this time of my life is a great and unexpected happiness to me!

Kate in her dA Gallery Store

Friday, January 18, 2013

Red Horse in a Winter Field

When I was a student at Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood, almost 40 years ago, I dreamed of a red horse; a large, glowing, muscular, head-tossing creature. As I approached the red horse to ride it, it slowly shrank until it resembled in size a big dog. I felt foolish and frustrated and remarked to myself that to ride this horse I would have to be the size of a child on a Hobby Horse. The dream either expressed or introduced a deep mood of chagrin and is one of very few dreams I have remembered across time. Since I have been living in Owens Valley, my camera's eye has been caught many times by red horses in pastures around Bishop and Big Pine. Now I have begun a series of paintings of red horses, using my photographs as source material, and a few days ago, I wrote a red horse poem.

a red horse on the Paiute Reservation, Bishop
 a red horse in a Rossi pasture, Big Pine
 a draft horse as it stands in my mind
a pack horse poking head through barbed wire, begging

Red Horse in a Winter Field

I dreamed a Palomino
taffy and gold,
I dreamed a Harlequin Pony
cheerful and bold.
I dreamed a Red Horse shrinking
from shame and cold.

Taffy and gold was sold.
Cheerful and bold grew old.
Red Horse mired in thickets and wire,
kept buried in coal like fire.

Winter's color, winter's stain
rust and blood on the window pane.
Trained in thickets, framed in wire,
Red Horse returns, blamelessly burning.