Peaks and Troughs
Moving into the final stages of the Teton work a number of experiments have jarred whilst I am painting them. It’s almost as if they could be someone’s else’s paintings. I realise, in some, I am trying too deliberately to depict the mountains, perhaps as anyone would see them and it doesn’t feel right, as if I’m trying to speak in a generic accent rather than my own. Other pieces feel more personal to me, derived from specific experiences, particularly the lengthy hike to hidden falls just before nightfall(see Trip Phase Diary 5th June). Even at this stage I can sense that this may be a recurring dialogue between the compulsion to document in an obvious way and a more interpretative creation. Many of the paintings I am talking about aren’t even finished but what is encouraging is how soon I have realised what is working and some where more work might compound my frustrations.
This painting of the Peak of the Grand Teton is a great example. Important to say I think it’s a decent image and does convey the individual character of the mountain, it’s a pleasant surprise to achieve this at such an early stage in the work. It just feels like I am going through the motions of painting it rather than feeling the jeopardy and thrill of what I usually call pure painting. This is the fine line between relaxation and focus, a balance of desperate abandon and more carefully placed elements which enable the whole image to resonate with the painted embodiment of these differing emotional states.
Another painting which I am much more happy with is this one of the side of the mountain at sunset. It feels more like a place for the imagination to take flight, hinting at what might be. I remember a car journey in the Scottish highlands over the remote Applecross Pass, through heavy rain and drifting dense mist. When reaching the high point of pass I gazed from the window at a vast dark valley and tarn which seemed an unfathomable distance below the clouds. Quite suddenly a shift in the mist revealed the valley and tarn to be grass and a puddle yards away from the car. I still maintain in that moment the circumstances together with my imagination created one of the most amazing experiences of my life, illusory and yet utterly tangible. I always think about this fondly in relation to what I am trying to achieve with my paintings, a bridge between the difference of what we see and the experience of seeing it.
I’ve had a couple of weeks undulating with extreme highs and lows when I just want to settle in and know that I’m on the right path. Whenever I feel like this it’s easy to think that I’ve been painting for such a long time, surely I should be able to avoid these situations, these thoughts make a difficult situation even worse. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that it is exactly this cyclical nature of fear and the joy of resolution that is the forge of the emotional intensity in art. I never like to leave the studio in this frame of mind so I always try to reflect on the positives. In this case some of the paintings are working well, the tension is very natural, unavoidable and evidence to me of just how deeply I want to turn this time into something extraordinary.