I went for a walk before breakfast today and stopped alongside a branch of the stream that runs through the ranch:
The stream is an offshoot of the Yampa River, which apparently carries quite a sediment load from up higher in the mountains.
The Yampa River is a free-flowing river, such that it changes its course when it floods, sometimes quite dramatically. This movement of the river bed allows for the generation of new forests and wetlands, some right here on the Carpenter Ranch.
I was thinking about how the flooding river changing course could be a metaphor for life, how sometimes we are forced, or allowed, to alter our plans or activities based on incoming influences beyond our control. Sometimes these changes are welcome, other times they feel like an imposition. In the second case we might do well to look for what new possibilities or opportunities arise, as the new wetlands can be fertile ground for new growth.
Today I tried to abate my morning anxiety by going for a walk along the creek before I even had breakfast. It helped, but I still had a sense of desperation and had to use a lot of energy to contain all my negative feelings. At the same time I made a huge effort to reach out and connect with the positive elements in the environment here. I joined my two fellow artists for an hour of weeding the garden around our little house after breakfast, and that collective physical exertion definitely helped my mood. Weeding, the process of editing plants on the land, is already a major theme of my experience here. I also went for a run with one of the other artists along the river under the cliffs, and we had a pleasant conversation and got to know one another a little bit better.
I don't care too much for this drawing. I was trying to capture the feeling of looking up at some amazing cliffs high above the river, and how they have been sculpted over time by the water, but I didn't get it right. Oh well, that's why I call this a process exercise, right?
I like the detail better - it looks more like some of the abstract paintings I like by other artists.
Today has been an internal battle, with repeating thoughts that I can't handle this project and that I need to leave and escape to a safe retreat. I went back to bed for a couple of hours after breakfast because I just couldn't face the day. Here is what it looks like:
The drawing came out prettier than I felt - I think perhaps the blues should have been greys, but in the moment I was drawn to grasp the blue pastels. The pink up-and-down mimics my internal ups and downs, one moment feeling positive and a part of something, the next feeling absolutely alone and without anything meaningful to offer.
A detail -- some of the conflict in direction - can I grasp onto the positive energy, or will I collapse inward?
One of the positive things I got to do today was borrow a car to go to the nearby town and explore a little bit. I went to an awesome nursery/tackle/feed store and got some interesting, articulate interviews with the owner and her children. I also had a fun conversation with the owner of the town's grocery store, in which he described how Hayden is special because everyone knows everyone else, and you can feel safe about your kids walking around because you know everyone cares about them.
Here is my impression of the drive from ranch to town, several steps removed from reality:
Just my remembered vision of the road, the farms, the grasses and some herds of cows.
That's about it for today. Oh, one more positive note - I worked with the other artists and the daughter of the ranch managers to move a huge pile of trimmed cottonwood tree branches from where we'd left them in the middle of the garden to the graveyard for discarded leftovers behind the barn. It was hard physical work, and the cooperative effort helped me want to be awake for the rest of the day.
So I don't consider myself a painter at all, and I don't often draw or sketch much of anything, but during my last week in San Diego I was introduced to a liberating expressive art studio, where people gather to collectively create with color. Otto and Raquel and I attended an 'Art Lunch', for which people bring their lunch and set themselves free with paint collectively on a huge shared piece of paper taped to the wall. I enjoyed it enough that I went back for an individual expressive art therapy session, focussed on my decision whether or not to come to this residency. I made a large, colorful, chaotic painting, half relating to my feelings about coming to Colorado and half about the possibility of not coming, and what that might mean.
Obviously I decided to come, and I further decided I wanted to use this tool of uninhibited color application as part of my process for dealing with my complicated emotions, and for getting to know the ranch and coming into relationship with the physical environment. This is what I made on my first full day here:
This is my impression of my internal feelings: intense anxiety and fear, yet making a heroic effort to contain myself and begin to look beyond my inner turmoil to the excitement and possibilities of being here.
A detail of the same drawing. I am using chalk pastels as an initial layer and then adding details with oil pastels.
Another detail - my father asked me what color my anxiety might be, so here it came out orange with purple chaotic energetic impulses, against a ground of black.
This is the second color impression for the day, a simple observation of the view outside the window of the studio: grasses, a fence, and a sky hung with some heavy clouds. It doesn't look like much, but that's not the point. The point is that drawing it brought me into closer relationship with the ranch environment, and forced me to make some more detailed observations than I would have otherwise. I also found the process of spreading the color on the page helped distract from and calm my raging anxiety.
A detail of the road, grasses, and the wooden post fence. I really enjoyed smearing the chalk pastels with my fingers and then attacking the paper with the oil pastels.
A detail of the sky. This morning the sky was almost completely blue, but by the time I was studying it in the early afternoon some clouds heavy with rain were gathering in different spots. It still looked mostly fair, and I was surprised to get caught in a shower when I took a walk. Drawing these clouds and taking that walk both taught me something about the variability and unpredictability of the skies here. Pay attention to the darkness in the corners!
First of all, I admit to lingering terror about being here at all. Apparently we (the three artists) are each expected to make a 35-40 minute presentation at a community event on September 24, and I have no idea what I will say/show/present. There is no connector for my computer to the projector, so unless I find a technical solution I won't be able to present video, which I had been thinking could be a central element of what I will do here this month.
However, I decided that rather then focus on this gaping hole of fear inside me I would shift towards the external environment, so I set off across the ranch with my pack full of notebook, camera, video-camera and tripod. What would I see? What could I find to think about in a positive way?
Suddenly out of nowhere the sky opened up and I was caught in a rainstorm with no protection. What luck! I ran through the tall grass and ducked under a shelter for gigantic round hay bales.
I had some time to appreciate the aesthetic form of these hay bales - they are substantial in size, each taller than I am, yet they are somewhat fragile, and could be torn apart with not much effort. They are a good example of the interconnection Thich Nhat Hanh talks about: the bales represent a lot of energy, all that went into growing the grass that became the hay; the sun, the rain, and the minerals and nutrients in the soil. Then they also contain all the energy that went into harvesting the hay, processing it into bales and transporting it to this storage area - all the human energy, plus the fossil fuel to power the machinery used.
And here the bales sit, beautiful to look at, waiting to take their next steps to complete their destiny to supply energy to cows or other livestock. Their circular form is a perfect reminder of their participation in a cycle of production and the perpetuation of life.
My rough cut of two iterations of Nevertheless, a piece about chance and inevitability, the inexorable progress of events unfolding.
How do we choose to understand the things that happen to us? How do we perceive the things we cause to happen?
How much choice do we have in how we understand or perceive?
How fragile, or resilient, are we?
One roll took place at Metafora art center in Barcelona, shot by Desiree Haupts, the other in a courtyard in El Papiolet, a small village in Spain, shot by Manuela Bernasconi. Both were shot for informal documentation. There's a more intentional video performance piece yet to come.