Being back out in the desert, crunching around in the dry dirt and trying to capture the enormity of it all in paint has woken in me an enormous pride for my state and it’s deep and multicultural history. It’s also made me very aware this history is slipping away. The past and the present are casualties of the future and, as much as I like progress, I truly believe the memories of a place should be preserved. We owe it to those who come after us.
Like all pieces of time, from an archeological point of view, Arizona’s memories are sinking. Traditions have been buried under dust and concrete. Most Arizonans, even many natives like myself, don’t know a heck of a lot about this place, other than the habitual visual cliche’s - cactus and “Indians,” horses, cattle, and cowboys, etc., and, of course, where the bars, malls, lakes, and latest planned developments are. But, cliche’s, like stereotypes, come from somewhere. They’re categories and tags that enable us to mentally process information, without having to think too much about it. They’re the lizard art on Scottsdale’s freeways and the ubiquitous Kokopelli flute player iconography seen all over the southwest. They’re surfaces with little substance, but they hint at the deeper, multi-layered, and multi-faceted history of Arizona.
It is this history and this energy I hope to tap into and preserve by creating my own artistic truths about my “heritage” and the heritage of those who occupied this land before me and those who now occupy it with me along with the land itself. Arizona has shaped me. It is me. It’s minerals are stuck in my bones. It’s memories are embedded in my mind. Its skies are my skies. Its trees, my trees. Its cactus, my cactus and its dirt, mine, as well. It is my home. It’s Arizona and I want to paint every inch of it.
I created the study of Bell Rock, above, on my recent trip to Sedona. Despite underestimating the heat, the experience was a memorable opening into the joys and tribulations of plein air painting in Arizona. I'm now in the process of creating my plein air calendar, scheduling painting trips in sync with the varied Arizona seasons and climates throughout the year. Hopefully, I won't get caught painting in 100-plus degree temps again!