Landscape to Abstraction: How Does It Happen?

Lupine and Poppies 4" x 9" Gouache on Arches Board

Lupine and Poppies 4" x 9" Gouache on Arches Board

There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward, you can remove all traces of reality.
— Pablo Picasso

Many of the paintings I have created for our Rose Compass exhibition are small abstractions. I am venturing into the same places as the rest of our group, but my response to these wilderness encounters goes through a different process. How does it happen?? My process includes observation, memory and invention. Let me explain:

First, as I venture into these wild places, I am open to the sounds and the smell of the place. I feel the power of the color and unique shapes carved out over time. I strive for the totality of the experience. I will use these memories back in the studio layering my direct response to the landscape with my inner landscapes of invention and imagination. My painted surfaces now have their own life; they do not mimic nature, they transcend nature. 

Red Rock Reflections 3" x 3" Gouache on Arches Board

Red Rock Reflections 3" x 3" Gouache on Arches Board

Inspired by her memories of her feelings...
— Joan Mitchell
Super Bloom II 3.5" x 3.5" Gouache on Arches Board

Super Bloom II 3.5" x 3.5" Gouache on Arches Board

My process is very much inspired by the great abstract expressionist, Joan Mitchell who was "inspired by her memories of her feelings..."  Mitchell had a certain affinity for her beautiful sunflowers which she had planted on her two acre estate in Vetheuil, France (a small town just north of Paris near Claude Monet's home in Giverny.) 

Like Mitchell's love for flowers, the wildflowers of the Santa Ynez Watershed inspired me. I depicted the wild and colorful Lupine and Poppies during the March super bloom on Mt. Figueroa.

I also portrayed the wild California Sunflower that blanketed many spring fields along the Santa Ynez River. And, after the many fires of 2017, I painted the Poodle Dog Bush that chases in after the fires. But don't let the beautiful purple blooms invite your touch, it will produce blisters and swelling more severe than poison oak or poison ivy!  

 

After the Rains - California Sunflowers 5" x 15.5" Gouache on Yupo

After the Rains - California Sunflowers 5" x 15.5" Gouache on Yupo

After the Fires - Poodle Dog Bush 5" x 15.5" Gouache on Yupo

After the Fires - Poodle Dog Bush 5" x 15.5" Gouache on Yupo

Jameson Lake and the Thomas Fire

Murrieta Divide, Jameson Lake, Gouache on archival board, 5"x2 1/2"

Murrieta Divide, Jameson Lake, Gouache on archival board, 5"x2 1/2"

20 December 2017

Looking back at this time we have spent exploring, observing, learning about and recording the Santa Ynez River Watershed, I realize that it has been bracketed by a single element: fire.

What I’ve learned about the effects of a 7-year drought in our beloved region is that we are now in a continual fire season. We started with the Rey Fire in August, 2016 and are now ending with what may well end up being the largest fire in CA history, the Thomas Fire.

The most heart-breaking moment was seeing photos of the burned out area of Jameson Lake and Juncal Dam. This is the beginning of the SYR watershed and our reservoir system. 

                                                                                     photo: Ray Ford, Noozhawk

                                                                                     photo: Ray Ford, Noozhawk

The efforts of the combined fire fighting resources included a mandate to protect the watershed. This is after all, the primary source of water for our area and this damage will have long-term effects: ash, silt, muddy runoff and flooding when we do get rain, not to mention the loss of vegetation and habitat for many creatures.

The images from the burnt out Jameson brought home, yet again, the fragility of our watershed. 

                                                                                                                              photo: Nina Warner

                                                                                                                              photo: Nina Warner

It was a year ago to the day of this writing that we traveled up Gibraltar Road to Camino Cielo, down the backside to Jameson Lake to tour the Dam and area around the lake. It was a beautiful day, cold and clear. We hiked up Alder Creek to look at the historic flume, and walked up to the face of the dam and looked into the weir. We sat and had lunch with our hosts from the Montecito Water District, in front of the cabin that served as the dam-keepers home. It was burned down in the fire.

We are affected by any change to the water systems, whether natural or human-made, and this is a profound change. It will take a long time to recover.