I have just returned from the opening of a show of 15 of my last year's paintings at Blue Hollomon Gallery in Anchorage. As always, the gallery did a wonderful job of installation and promotion, and it was a great delight to visit with the more than 200 people who came out for my First Friday opening on a 4th of July weekend. The show was enthusiastically received and is off to a good start, but the best thing about opening receptions for me is getting to see and visit with so many friends, many of whom I hadn't seen since my last exhibition in Anchorage, two years ago.
Included in the show were several brand-new paintings that I've finished since my last blog post--among them Imperative, which features a branch of a young birch that I kind of "adopted," and began observing and painting last year, and that I hope to continue chronicling in its growth for some time. This beautiful, unusual tree is part of a grid of birches planted in a long-term environmental study field within the 2000-acre arboretum of the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. Dr. Jan Dawe, the Director of the OneTree Alaska program that I've been working with for more than a year now, explained to me that the female catkins which feature prominently in the image are almost certainly a response to stress.
The tree I chose to follow has two main stems, one of which Jan describes as "normal," and the other as a "mutated one." The two stems differ markedly--from the color of their bark and resin glands to the shape and color of their leaves. The darker stem I painted last year (now on view in the OneTree lab on campus) had catkins last summer, but has numerous female catkins--infructescences--this summer. From what Jan has told me, and what I've read, "my" tree may be following a biological Imperative to reproduce itself, in case it doesn't make it.
Several of the paintings in my current exhibition are wondering responses to things I've noticed while working with the scientists at UAF, and as I told a number of people at my exhibition opening last Friday, I'm amazed, and more than a little embarrassed, that I've been looking hard at birches for almost forty years in Alaska and am just now seeing so many new things about them for the first time.
And though I have more than enough new work ready when each new exhibition approaches, I always want to finish just one or two more pieces before shipping it all to the gallery. I completed Ridgelight and Smith Lake Glory in the weeks just before this show. These little paintings are as much my humbled response to the glorious Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico paintings that Dorli and I tracked down all over the hill country in Tuscany in May of this year as they are celebrations of the beautiful light of Interior Alaska.