Saturday, September 3, 2011

more coincidences

Driving home from the Salt Lake City airport last night, I was treated to a radio interview from 2004 with Doug Snow, a well-known Utah artist and professor who retired to the Torrey/Capitol Reef area and lived about five miles from my home. Doug died in a car accident two years ago, at age 82. I knew him, though not as well as I would have liked, and I shared a few conversations about art with him. A retrospective of his work just opened in Salt Lake City, hence the re-broadcast of the interview.

To hear Doug's voice and words while driving (somewhat wearily) home from the Wisconsin trip at first seemed to be a delightful coincidence. But soon the content of his remarks resonated so deeply that they seemed to be an end-note to the experience of this past week, another serendipitous occurrence of the muse's message.

Doug was deeply tied to the land here, and often cited the Cockscomb, a local geological landmark, as his muse. His paintings often referenced it (the image above is of his Cockscomb near Teasdale, 1985), and usually elicited strong reactions from viewers. In the interview, Doug spoke about the many artists who come to this area to render the landscape. From his perspective, most results lack something, because they don't convey emotion. He said, "“the landscape down here can be anything you want it to be,” that it “helps you to express whoever or whatever you feel that you are at that time.”

Doug believed that the role of the artist is to use the tools of the trade to translate one's own thoughts and feelings into art.  Rather than simply paint what you see (which, Doug said, is usually what has already been painted), “I think it’s great to take on stuff…without any preconceptions, just let it do something, let it bring something out of you, and then take that, using the landscape as a reference.” The landscape itself can have a profound influence, but the artist should still try to find his- or herself in the material. 

Finally, he spoke about curiosity being key to the process, because it leads to the unexpected and to surprise. “If I begin a painting, and I’m not surprised at the result, then all I've done is illustrate some vague idea I had in the first place.” “Improvisation plays a powerful role in what I do.  When in doubt, I improvise, and out of that comes something I can grab hold of and intensify, that becomes the finished product.” I felt as though he were speaking directly to me, reinforcing my recent realization that my aim is to portray not just the land itself but my feelings about it, and to let improvisation occur.

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