One of the most interesting challenges I faced in the studio was the time I spent trying to evoke the natural phenomena of Yellowstone. Whether it be the Geysers, steaming pools or the mineral terraces of Mammoth, each are still underpinned by the creative rhythms and structures of nature but usually in an unexpected place, like spewing violently from a hole in the ground.
There is a danger in the original experience looking so strange that attempts to convey it can just look ‘wrong’, conveying a lack of truth to the viewer. Any artist who has tried to paint a rainbow will understand this, how many examples are there of great rainbow paintings in the history of Art? Yet Art History does offer up other superb inspiration for conveying the contrast between devastation and beauty. While we were out there I was reminded of the brilliant War Art of Paul Nash. It deepened my appreciation of his paintings as well as offering another imaginative route into this phase of work, along with Moran’s sketches.
Following a familiar pattern my earliest studies got bogged down in description that was a little too obvious. This was weird because in real life these subjects already look like an abstract painting, the rock appears to be melting or poured in surreal colour. I eventually decided to release myself from preconceived notions and concentrate on experimenting with paint, focusing on the natural properties in the media, using turps or water to vary how it would mix, run and drip by turning the paper in different directions, initially not thinking about the subject.
I produced countless sketches using oil, watercolour and ink together, it’s hugely enjoyable just to watch materials like this move, combine and repel each other. Most of the results are very abstract but there always seems to be a point where pure abstraction yields to memory, imagination, emotion and an urge to associate marks to the intended subject. When I return to look at them, after a few days, there are a small selection which have such a delicate balance of energy and atmosphere I decided to leave them and they are now in the exhibition.
I think it was really useful for me to separate each stage of the trip into different periods of work in the studio but I believe it was during this phase that I had a growing sense that all the elements were starting to coalesce into a wholistic understanding and confidence approaching the final challenges.