By Liz Goldner, Special to the Independent
While on location in the Grand Canyon this past autumn, painting a commissioned work, Laguna Beach’s Fitz Maurice found her creative efforts stymied by an unmovable force. She awoke on Oct. 1 to discover the Grand Canyon National Park, along with the rest of the federal government, temporarily padlocked.
She hiked from her lodgings just outside the canyon into the woods, but was unable to return to the painting location of the previous day. Fortunately the body of the painting, “Transept,” was far enough along to complete at home.
Before leaving, she commiserated with a busload of European tourists, their travel plans undone by events in the nation’s capitol. The plight of visitors who had traveled thousands of miles to experience one of the country’s greatest national treasures underscored the importance of her own “quest,” painting on location in each of the 401 national parks.
“These national treasures are too precious for short-sighted politicians to toy with,” said Maurice (pronounced “morris”).
Upon returning home, she completed “Transept,” which she explains captures the essence and breadth of the Grand Canyon. Her goal is to distill the atmosphere within the individual parks, breathing in their air, light and fragrance in order to imbue each painting with “exceptional life.”
After a decade painting periodically in such remote regions as New Mexico’s Zuni Mountains, Maurice set out to capture national parks, forests and monuments last year. To finance these expeditions, she embarked on a “kickstarter” campaign, an online fundraising scheme sometimes referred to as, “The People’s NEA.” The campaign included two videos of her at work. While her goal was to pre-sell national park paintings, she surpassed this with two collectors paying her handsomely in advance for artwork of their choice, and two others paying for custom-framed prints of earlier park paintings.
Since successfully concluding her campaign, Maurice has visited five national parks and forests, including California’s Kings Canyon and Sequoia, and New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument; and she has completed eight original oil paintings. Earlier this year, she visited Virginia’s Shenandoah Park where she hiked among the sun-splattered waterfalls, and then depicted these cascades in paintings titled, “Dawn,” “Water Falling,” “Twilight” and “Celestia.”
In her Laguna Canyon studio, standing in front of “Transept,” her Grand Canyon opus, she describes that canyon as “God’s signature on this planet.” She adds that, “in order to connect with the force that carved out this canyon,” she first rafted on the Colorado River. That was back in September, after which she drove four hours to the canyon’s north rim where temperatures fell to freezing. She stayed in a rustic cabin just outside the national park for a week, driving, then hiking each day into the woods, scrambling up cliffs through rocks, “to find the best site to capture the canyon’s essence.”
With the spirit of plein air artists, she carried her easel, paints and brushes, spent time absorbing the essence and beauty of the location, and worked assiduously on her painting.
With her marketing instincts as irrepressible as her creativity, Maurice contacted the National Parks Foundation and received informal approval that her park images will be added to the NPF website, according to an email from a staff member who declined to be identified.
Collector Rod Gypin of Laguna Niguel, who purchased “Serene,” depicting Bandelier Monument, expresses reverence for her work. “She is helping to re-energize our national parks.”
Leslie Vaughan of Aliso Viejo who bought “Transept” says, “With climactic changes occurring all over the world, this project is especially important. The parks of today may be significantly different in the future.”
Maurice, a New York native, received her master’s in fine arts from Rochester Institute of Technology. For years, she explored a figurative style, of people at work and play, of landscapes and cityscapes; the latter is exemplified by her 2009 series, “Common Ground,” celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification. She has also won numerous awards including the 2001 Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner Award.
She calls her newest artistic style, embodied in the national parks series, “Illuminism.” Painted with thickly applied oils, the series evokes impressionism with its depiction of light and movement; while the overall effect is expressive, recalling Van Gogh’s landscapes. She says, “I have loved these national parks, these monuments of beauty, for many years. They inspire artists of all kinds, provide golden memories and give us all a sense of national pride.”
Liz Goldner, who contributes to ArtScene, Art Ltd., Artillery, OC Register Magazine, Laguna Beach Art Magazine and more, lives in Laguna Beach. She is a member of International Association of Art Critics.