Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Distant Vistas

We didn’t go into town to see the fireworks on July 4th, even though Fort Collins puts on a great show. It’s just way too crowded, whether you try to go to City Park or watch from above on the ridges of the foothills. Instead, we drove up 287 to the Wyoming line. We saw the Virginia Dale stage station (home of the infamous Jack Slade) where Lincoln’s Vice President Colfax stopped on his tour of western mining towns.

When we turned around to go back, the scenery was spectacular. Broad, distant vistas, stormy skies, rainbows (three, or one and a half, depending on how you count them) dramatic shadows and bright sunlit bluffs. It was the kind of thing that makes a painter think, “Wow, I’d love to paint that,” and “I could never paint that” at the same time. The kind of thing that makes painting conventions like point of interest, balance, perspective and depth just seem irrelevant. Charles Hawthorne actually came right out and said, “Avoid distant views.” Just looking at the vast distance can be intimidating. Makes you wonder where you fit in.

If you use watercolor, it’s especially challenging, because you can’t just keep messing with it until it works.

But there are people who do make it work, using all different mediums. D.F. Gray is one who uses pastels (see image above). Living on the seacoast, he has the advantage of interesting skies and reflections in the water. Here in the western foothills, there’s not much atmospheric perspective, and the sky can be pure blue. This is where abstraction comes to the rescue. Call it “color field” painting, and let it be about the shapes, textures and colors and how they relate. You are hereby authorized to make your own landscape, or to make the landscape your own.

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