Twelve years ago I began painting portraits of individual burned boles because of my anxiety about the impacts of what is now a climate crisis.
I heard two days ago that one of my burned tree paintings has been removed from the path of a California fire. I hope with all my heart that my purchasers’ home is spared–yet I am so moved that they chose to rescue the work in the face of what must be thousands of concerns.
Blazed, varnished watercolor on torn paper, 52″H x 20″W (2017). The subject was a tree near Observation Point in Zion National Park. This painting was #36 of what is now a series of 42.
It will not surprise you to hear I made myself a massive, hunker-down, shelter-in-place project, now nearly three-quarters completed.
In January I received the people’s choice award at a local juried show. One option for the award is an exhibit on a large wall above the checkout counter at a nearby public library. Before the lockdown went into effect, I made it over there to check out the space. One side of the wall is 24 feet wide, with about 6 feet of vertical space. There is also a smaller wall on the other side of a central doorway.
I’ve always meant to try one of my burned tree paintings on the lengthwise axis of a roll of watercolor paper — but been intimidated by the time commitment required. With my beloved wilderness off-limits, I knew I needed something demanding to do.
When completed it will be 22 feet long (not quite an entire roll of 30 feet : -) Since I don’t have room to work on something that big in my studio, I’m doing it in sections that will hang abutted. I figure if John Grade’s immense Middle Fork sculpture was created in sections, I can do it, too.
I’ll mount them so they can be hung either vertically or horizontally, though I expect most venues will need it to be horizontal.
Panels 1-6: I don’t have enough floor space in the largest room I have to lay them out!
Two friends independently dubbed it “Water Lilies of the Anthropocene.” While it’s nowhere near the size of Monet’s largest water lily paintings, it’s the largest of my 12-year preoccupation with wildland fires, as their remains increase in frequency and severity in our warming climate. The library is excited about it and plans to do some programming around it. I’m excited because lots of people will see it — whenever we can visit libraries once again.
I’ve just starting panel 7 of 7, at ~18.5 feet now. Between that and varnishing and mounting, I think it will take another 3-4 weeks. The animation at the top of this post represents 28 painting days, with 7 panel prep days as well.
We have all had plans and dreams interrupted by the virus. I wish us all good health, an easing of the stresses and strictures, and a chance to show what we’ve been working on during this pandemic siege.
UPDATE May 1, 2020:
The painting portion is finally finished (there’s still varnishing, creating shaped boards to mount them on and mounting them to do).
My photos don’t quite do it justice — it is too large to lay out in any contiguous space in my studio, so each panel has been photographed separately and digitally composited. The color-matching across panels is more accurate in the painting than in these photos.
“The Big Tree,” Watercolor on torn paper, 49″ x 262″ (21’10”)
It’s fun to see it in its possible vertical orientation, too. One thing that surprised me: the panels also look surprisingly meaningful as separate side-by-side pieces.