Making Art in Death Valley
Making art in Death Valley is a joyous
experience. There is so much to paint - vast skies and ranges of mountains,
rock forms to delight the artist and the geologist, flowers of every shape
and color from and eighth of an inch to six inches across. Every mineral
color can be found on the canyons walls, in the valleys waters of blue
and green reflect sky and salt, and everywhere the noisy ravens are the
most delicious black.
I had a vision while traveling through
the Mojave a few years before of painting on a large canvas in the middle
of a vast desert valley, ringed by mountains, grand distances in all directions.
I did it in Death Valley, my canvas protected from the bed of salt by a
thick tarp. Standing on the canvas I painted what I saw in all directions,
two mountain ranges, snow on top of Telescope Peak, huge alluvial fans
reaching toward me, red earth, green water, white salt, purple hills, bronze
hills, blue sky. There is an exhilaration in the rush of painting before
the light changes, or before it is too hot to be in the sun, or it is your
only chance to catch clouds trying to push themselves over the peaks in
the early dawn light.
In Death Valley so much of this tough
beauty is close to the road, relatively easy to get to, and except for
midday, it is possible to find in many places nooks of shade to paint in.
And just when you think you are done for the day, the sky cooks up some
storm clouds at sunset and you rush out with your watercolors and work
as fast as you can, occasionally helped by some rain drops falling on your
I was glad I had painted in deserts before,
glad I had learned some vocabulary of slot canyons, rock strata, drifted
sand and changing light on stone. It is almost insane to try to paint
such a place as Death Valley, but we hope to capture some essences, some
tastes of the vast constantly changing beauty, from the salt flats 282
feet below sea level to the highest peaks at 11,000. Where the eye
can see 80 miles easily, where a curve in the road reveals huge flat valleys
and more mountains beyond, looking hot and dry but with hidden oasis of
trees and water. In Death Valley you understand more everyday why
the ranger staff is so passionate and dedicated, and why visitors from
all over the world come back again and again.