On the quest to paint each national park in America, I experience challenges searching and finding the ultimate scene worthy of representing their mysterious wonders.
Now that I have painted over half of the 59 national parks, the National Park Paintings series is coming into focus as a body of paintings. Years ago I made the decision to capture the iconic portrait of each park to engage people in identifying the individual parks as they discover them in the exhibition. Now it is exciting to envision a gallery of paintings that are iconic enough to be individually recognized yet revealing the varied awesome landscapes that make up our remarkable treasure chest of national parks. That is why I consider very carefully which scene best represents that park before I even start drawing and painting.
Painting a scene of the volcanic crater of Haleakala National Park in Maui is a complicated landscape to convey. Sliding Sands Trail geologically is filled with massive contradictions, such as colored sand that is slowly sliding downhill with cruel jagged lava rocks thrown in. The signature red color in the foreground is sand rich in iron content sliding downward into vibrant greens patches below. Ten thousand feet above sea level, it is intense how fast the weather changes from sunny and hot to cold and windy, as if the native gods are forever temperamental. Fog or clouds come roaring in at great speeds and before I could believe what I was witnessing, I was enfolded in a blinding drape of grey.
Looking into the finished oil painting, you can see how those clouds are devouring the crater landscape. The clouds are a massive monster of cold damp mist. It is this same moisture that keeps alive the indigenous silversword plants, one of the iconic symbols of the park because the plant is making a remarkable recovery having recently been removed from the endangered species list. Silverswords do shine with a silvery glow and the one in the lower right foreground of the painting is standing as a monument to survival against great odds.
There are some moods and wonders that are perhaps more evident in the drawing (featured in the Sept. 1 edition) then revealed in the painting. The charcoal drawing is black and white, which tends to emphasize contrast highlighting areas in a very different way than when using colorful paint. As an example, the demigoddess Pele is more apparent in the sky of the drawing than in the painting.
Each medium, be it charcoal drawing, oil painting, watercolor or pastel tends to have its own intrinsic character. One of the choices I make as an artist is which medium is best used to portray the desired character of the future landscape or subject.
While painting on the quest I consider myself to be a landscape artist, drawing and painting outside on location to get the inspiration and color sensibility. Then I work on the painting in the studio much the way a composer works to bring all the different nuances together to create one masterful composition. Research, living the experience, searching for the ultimate scene, drawing the composition, including all of the essential characteristics, and finally I am prepared to start the oil painting.
My personal expectation of the finished Haleakala painting was very much like a mother carrying her child; it is done with love but the weight is there. I carried this painting for months of disciplined work and persistence. Finally the breakthrough came and I could see the next way to proceed.
I waited as an artist the way a pregnant woman impatiently waits for her baby to be born and no one can understand how the bearer cannot know when it will be done!
I have dedicated great care to the creation of each painting in National Park Paintings series. Each individual work of art must ring true to me before I can allow it to be presented. Perfection no longer being my desired result as I have learned after a lifetime of painting that freshness is crushed by over-painting, which is brought on by the pursuit of perfection. I have learned that perfection is not perfect; truth is perfect. Like a face, when I see a perfect face my eyes are less attracted than to a face with true character. I would rather live with my art having the qualities of uniqueness and fresh paint with passionate energy through each stroke than controlled lines with predictable results. So I paint each piece until I can look upon it with restful eyes and can hear the bell of truth ring in my ears.
My goal is that the viewer can feel the temperature of the day, the season of the year, and gets excited enough to want to go there and experience the park themselves.
I want my viewer to feel pulled into this expansive view of the crater just as I was. How I wished I could spread my wings and fly away over the endless ocean below.
The next time you fly to Maui, go to the top of the island and enjoy fabulous hiking with gigantic views in Haleakala National Park.
Work by the lifetime artist and 30-year south-county resident has been exhibited and collected internationally.