It is human nature to test oneself. There is a desire to carve out one's character and prove one's mettle in this world. How we do this is beautifully varied and unique to each of our own temperaments. Some of us dream to take the leap into this unknown. Others do it. Chris McCandless did it. The fact that he perished while realizing his dream doesn't change the fact that at least he tried. This is why I have gravitated to his story and the photographs that he took have inspired over 14 paintings based on his adventures from 1990-1992. "Chris's Pack, Stampede Trail", 18"x36", oil on canvas, is the latest in this body of work.
Chris set out on The Stampede Trail on the morning of April 28th, 1992. It was cold and spring was particularly late arriving that year. This painting shows the snow-packed trail and his small camp that he has set up right on the track. Considering how many mushers and snowmobilers, skiers and outdoor enthusiasts frequent the area, it is pretty amazing that Chris didn't see another soul for 113 days. But this is probably what he hoped for. Total isolation. The ultimate test to see if he could do it. And he almost did.
The Stampede Trail runs along a small parcel of land that is technically in the Wolf township. It is surrounded entirely by Denali National Park, a vast expanse that is over 6 million square acres. Stampede Road graduates into Stampede Trail, and the trail meanders for over 20 miles before dissolving into the wilderness. Along the trail there are a few cabins but it is largely unpopulated. I have hiked the entire length of Chris's journey along the Stampede Trail, so going through his photographs I feel a wave of nostalgia, which strikes me as a bit strange. Read about my entire journey here. I recognize areas that he photographed (the Teklanika River, Bus 142, the gravel bar near the Sushana River). This painting is another of Chris's many "self-portraits". His tent, his small home, his worldly possessions all assembled on the cold earth, are an extension of himself. He wanted to look back on these images and remember what he had done and where he had been.
In approaching this painting I wanted to accentuate the space, the open sky and surrounding landscape. The colour palette is muted. Subtle. I used a lot of grey which I mix on my palette rather than purchasing grey in a tube. The same goes for black. I like to mix all of these tones each time I apply a bit of pigment. I never mix a large quantity of paint to draw from but prefer the inherent variations produced from mixing for each brushstroke. That is why a large section of black can have echoes of dark green, purple, crimson or blue.
Painting white is one of my favourite things to do. Whether it be snow or sheets draping a figure, all colours are found in white, but the challenge is to show that it IS white...how does one do that? Like anything else, it is a balance of value and colour. The important thing is to stay open to being surprised by what you see and being faithful and resolved to reproduce it on canvas as accurately as possible.
Although this painting is of Chris's tent along the Stampede Trail it could belong to any of us. It is a symbol. It represents the bottomless energy of youth and the determination to not shy away from the precipice.