I haven't posted an update to this site in some time, but I have been busy. Since my last post in early September, I have:
-- Had an exhibition of 27 of my recent paintings at Well Street Art Gallery in Fairbanks.
-- Sent two new paintings to a group exhibition at Collins, Lefebvre, Stoneberger--the gallery that represents my work in Montreal, Canada.
-- Worked on new paintings for three upcoming invitational exhibitions--a show of narrative paintings at MTS Gallery in Anchorage, a show of works loosely defined as "masks" in Fairbanks, and an exhibition in Kenai, reflecting on 50 years of Alaska Statehood.
-- Made a presentation at an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Fairbanks, on the role of artists in the establishment and development of Denali National Park, another at an Alaska Historical Society Conference in Anchorage on the way visual arts in Alaska have grown and changed in the fifty years since statehood, and participated in a panel following that conference discussing challenges and potentials for Alaska's next fifty years.
-- Made weeklong field trips to two very different places new to me, one to Larsen Bay and the Karluk River on Kodiak Island in Alaska, and another to the marshes, beaches, pine and palmetto woods of northeast coastal Florida near Jacksonville.
-- Completed the several small paintings posted here, reflecting on my summer visit to Petersburg, Alaska and the unfolding of one of the most beautiful autumns I can remember in Fairbanks.
As usual, it has taken some time for the rich experience of being in a particular place--in this case Petersburg, Alaska in July--to percolate to a level in my consciousness from which I felt I had something to say. In the last month, I've made three small paintings reflecting on my few days there.
The first day I spent with the group for whom I conducted a painting workshop in Petersburg was at Blind Slough, a lovely spot that I had last visited eighteen years before, and we had an overcast but beautiful day. The second full day of painting was at Sandy Beach, and as I noted in an earlier post, it was cold, windy, and rainy--classic Southeast Alaska weather that I remember very well from our years living in Juneau in the 1970s. I loved then, and still love, the silvery light in Southeast Alaska, which just deepens the colors of the rich intertidal zone of the rocky-more-than-sandy beach.
Until I painted my own ski tracks gleaming in the low sun on local trails last winter, I hadn't thought much about how seldom I have acknowledged in my Northern landscapes traces of civilization, the passage, habitations, or contrivances of the people who live here.
Though it's always hard for me to predict what I'll do in the studio next, I'm finding myself thinking more and more of how I can recognize that presence. The houses seen from Sandy Beach don't diminish the setting, and it seems important, somehow, not to ignore their presence. People live here, in the scattered outposts of this still-remote wilderness, and the way we live is as much a part of this place as the setting that draws and keeps us here. I can't help but think that this is fertile ground for me to explore.
Many hundreds of miles north of Petersburg, in Interior Alaska, we had a cold and rainy summer that reminded me a little of Southeast, but it gave way in September to one of the most beautiful autumns I can remember, with a month of bright blue skies, warm sunny days and crisp fall evenings. Creamers Field in Fairbanks, a former dairy farm turned wildlife refuge, is one of my favorite places in the fall. The grain fields are full of thousands of geese, sandhill cranes, and other waterfowl, the colors are gorgeous, and the farm fields are pastoral in a way that calls out to my rural, agricultural upbringing.
And so, though I've painted the fields and woods at Creamers many times in past autumns, this year I found myself for the first time including the barns, and a few of the geese taking flight southward. I think it's the contrast between the picturesque, rural setting and the permafrost-laced surrounding boreal forest and wetlands that makes us cherish this refuge--practically in downtown Fairbanks--all the more.
I decided to show the small paintings in this post in their frames, this one time, as examples of the way I frame my works on paper. Framing is a vexing issue for me. For years, I used nothing but the simplest possible, metal or square-section wood frames with plain, white mats. But as my work became more expensive over time, more and more of my collectors not only expected something nicer and more substantial, but often had historical paintings in their homes with much more elaborate frames, and the simple, almost severe look of my frames seemed out of place on their walls. I struggled and worked with various framers for a couple of years, before settling on these materials and design, which are just clean and simple enough for me, but solid and rich enough not to look out of place in collections that include historical work.
For my paintings on canvas, I still use very crisp, modern, pickled-white maple floater frames that I custom order from Metropolitan Picture Framing in Minneapolis. But as I acknowledged in a post a couple of years ago, I do on occasion order hand-carved, gold-leaf frames for collectors who really want them. I was surprised, when I first ordered such a frame for one of my canvases, that the quite contemporary color and style of my painting worked comfortably in that more elaborate setting, but as with the works on paper, I was able to find what seemed to me a good fit both for my desires and those of the collector.
I thought it might be fun to include here as well a couple of the oil pastel studies I did this glorious fall, sitting on the bank of the Tanana River one day and beside one of the numerous ponds surrounding the Fairbanks airport another. My oil pastel studies are much freer, much quicker and even more subjective in their color and handling than my other work done on location. I do think of them, and treat them, as finished works, and am no less determined to bring them to satisfactory conclusion, but something about the oil pastels makes me attack the scene before me with greater abandon, and what I learn from grappling with the rawer, blunter, more direct medium and working more quickly goes into the work I do later in the studio.
I tend to work alternately in formats that are either quite small or fairly large, and I find that when I've finished a very large painting, sometimes battling it for a month or more, I often want to work very small, on images that I can bring to fruition in days rather than weeks. And when I've completed, as I have in the last couple of months, a number of small works, I find myself craving the sustained challenge of something large, more daunting in scale and calling for sustained, patient will to bring to fruition. I suspect that's where I'm headed next.