“Lara walked along the tracks following a path worn by pilgrims and then turned into the fields. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes took a deep breath of the flower-scented air of the broad expanse around her. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment, and to call each thing by its right name, or, if this were not in her power, to give birth out of love for life, to successors who would do it in her place.”~Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago
"Chris' Pack, Stampede Trail", oil on panel, 24"x36" is a painting that I knew I had to do as soon as I saw the initial photograph that Chris McCandless took on April 28th, 1992. The photograph was reminiscent of an Ansel Adams vista, the moody, low-slung clouds scuttling across the bleak landscape, the great contrast in value from the pack to the snow....it was all there.
Chris was dropped off on The Stampede Trail April 28th by Jim Gallien, an electrician on his way to Anchorage, Alaska. He picked Chris up in Fairbanks and gave him a lift down to the Stampede Trail, taking him as far as his truck could go along the snowy, slippery road. There is a photograph that Gallien took of an excited Chris, rifle over his shoulder, ready to embark on his odyssey into the wilderness, and then there is this photograph (and subsequent painting). Chris was finally, at long last, alone. His pack here represents himself because he was holding the camera. I have painted Chris' backpack before and you can read about that painting, "Odyssey By Train" here. His pack went everywhere with him, was his home, his life, an extension of himself for those two rambling years of his odyssey.
There is a melancholic quality to this painting. I have stood in this exact spot on the trail, but in August...with the changing leaves and plentiful foliage rolling out over the vast expanse of land in every direction. Here, however, the snow casts an all together different quality upon the landscape. This painting really is paradoxical in many ways. On the one hand it has a sense of wonder and potential...the trail ahead, beckoning, not knowing where it goes, a dotted line that wends its way out into nothing, a symbol of self-discovery and the culmination of his Tolstoyan philosophy. On the other other hand there is the knowledge of what happened to Chris, and I am filled with a great sadness too. When I had the privilege of looking through his photographs, this one especially, jumped out and captured my heart immediately. I am glad to have finally completed it.
From a technical standpoint I wanted to remain true to Chris' vision, as I am trying to do with each painting from his photographs that I have completed. I alter very little. His photograph was shot in black and white, and thus the painting is black and white too. I love mixing blacks, as their is so much beautiful variety in each one. No two blacks are ever the same. We were instructed specifically in art school to never use black out of a tube but learn to mix your own and therein you have more control over all of its beautiful, possible permutations. There's a deep green-black before seashells disappear into the Atlantic, a purple-black that pulls sunsets away into the night, blue-blacks that bring out the best in stars and ochre-blacks that hide in stalks of hay bales in autumn. They are all beautiful in their own way because a bright value is only as brilliant as the dark ones allow them to be. Without darkness, lightness loses its vibrancy and poignancy.
I kept the brushwork very loose, especially in the sky. Often clouds have a very expressive, brushy quality to them and so I tried to not get too fussy with the sky. The mountains and surrounding landscape too I tried to not get too lost in but concentrated the brushwork more around the pack. Even though much detail in the pack is absent because of its dark value I love its simple, heavy shape sitting there on the snow. I like that you can see a little bit of his fishing net and his camera case which is lying to the right of the pack. There are tracks in the snow that continue up ahead of where Chris was standing, but for all intents and purposes he was heading into a place where no one had traveled before him. This painting is one small moment in that journey.
"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality." ~Henry David Thoreau
In other art-related news I will be a guest lecturer at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario in October. I will be speaking about my work, process and projects for students enrolled in the Art Fundamentals Program there. I look forward to this opportunity very much!
Here is some information on my solo show, Portraits Of Newfoundland, that is coming ever closer! I hope to see you at the opening. Please see previous posts on this blog that describe some of the paintings that will be in the exhibition.
Portraits Of Newfoundland
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm