Friday, October 7, 2011

"Montana Mountain I"

"To live for some future goal is shallow.
 It's the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.
~Robert M. Pirsig

"Hiking Montana Mountain I", oil on panel, 30"x40", is based on a hike that my friend Ian and I did near Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory recently. The North is beautiful any time of the year, but in the crisp days of autumn its beauty is particularly bewitching. 

We did this hike on August 26th and had to turn back eventually because of blowing snow up on the mountain ridge. Two years ago I was in the Yukon on May 1st, driving to Skagway, Alaska for the day to hike. At one point I drove through snow driving over a pass in Northern British Columbia and encountered a family cross-country skiing. On May 1st. This place is always keeping you on your toes. It can change its mind in an instant. It does not suffer fools gladly. These are just a few of the reasons that I love it. 

The deep crimson foliage was abundant as we ascended the mountain. A hundred years ago there was a mine based here, and the trail we followed ran below a steel cable that helped move ore up and down the mountain. Our path was steeped in a hardscrabble history, filled with the sweat and effort of many dreams. We passed ancient pots, the remains of cabins for the men working in the area, and different tower structures made of dry, groaning wood. 

The great thing about being an artist is that you are able to relive your memories, good and bad, every day you come to the easel. Not only must you mix paint, apply it and observe the technical requirements to render your piece, but you can also experience the joy of watching a painting develop into reality from your past reality, to live permanently in the world. 

The air is so clear and clean up there that there is no impediment to seeing the far off mountain tops except atmosphere and any weather that rolls in. I could hardly wait to work on pushing those mountains back to that far ridge where they belong. I wanted to delve into the blues, as blues help cool things off and push them away from you. The blue of the earth as seen from all of those photographs taken from space, is everywhere, even in the humblest of paintings. 

I used smaller brushes as I moved further away into the mountains on the horizon, while keeping brush strokes looser and more painterly up in the foreground to show the texture of the foliage. The sky is bleak and white because of the snow that day, but other days it would be as blue as the sea. We hiked over to the far ridge that you can see in the painting, and then headed back. Further on there are alpine lakes and even an abandoned monastery! I want to return there to see the evidence of what sheer tenacity it took to live up there on a permanent basis. Fortune favours the bold. Despite the stark and unforgiving climate, there is plenty of fortune to be had here. 

On a side note, I blogged a while ago about painting a portrait of my friend Joe, who helped me out by letting me stay at his wonderful place in Chicago this past summer while I was on my way to the Midwest. I painted this little portrait for him as a thank-you. He received it yesterday! Great friends are a great treasure.