shark fin island

I invented this island for a submission to LA+ Journal's IMAGINATION competition asking entrants to design their own island. (There were essentially no restrictions except that its area cannot exceed one square kilometer.)  Since it was a requirement, this is the first locale that I've actually positioned on the globe.  There will probably be others, given that one of my fascinations is modifying parts of the earth and then predicting what climates/ecosystems they would have.  

The drawings are a combination of watercolor and digital.  I plan to expand the series to include more watercolors depicting plan and perspective views - likely with topographical overlays as with previous islands. 

NARRATIVE
Shark Fin Island, named for its distinctive profile rising dramatically out of the mid-North Atlantic at the latitude of Nova Scotia, is the heavily-eroded product (along with surrounding seamounts) of a volcanic hotspot. Straddling climatic and biogeographic boundaries, sufficiently isolated to boast 95% plant endemism, ecologically diverse despite covering slightly less than 1 km2, and essentially free from human impacts, many consider it to be the planet’s most unique assemblage of plants and ecosystems.
  
The warm waters of Gulf Stream extend the subtropical zone northward to Shark Fin Island. This, combined with its location midway between North America and Europe, situates the island at the convergence of the Nearctic (northern New World), Palearctic (northern Old World), and Neotropical (tropical New World) Realms, each contributing evolutionary raw material transported by birds. Furthermore, a striking precipitation gradient, produced by steep topography that intercepts the prevailing westerlies, has enabled colonization by plant species from a variety of climates. The lowland forest, receiving 1200mm of rainfall annually at sea level, is dominated by species with origins in Bermuda, along with contributions from subtropical North America. The montane forest, with an annual rainfall of up to 2100mm, resembles the cloud forests of the Azores and is composed primarily of species originating there (with additions from Europe, temperate North America, and Caribbean cloud forests).

Isolation, topography and a paucity of edible fauna have protected the island from exploration, settlement, and invasive species; today, access is restricted to researchers. But its environment, created by a delicate balance of topographic, oceanic and atmospheric factors, is highly vulnerable to climate change. Overall precipitation is predicted to decrease, resulting in eventual disappearance of the already restricted montane forest, along with significant impacts at lower elevations. Accelerated efforts are underway to catalogue the island’s biota while it remains intact.

artist residency I Gullkistan Center for Creativity I laugarvatn, iceland

Laki Crater Row, Iceland (my photo)

Laki Crater Row, Iceland (my photo)

Laki Crater Row, Iceland (my photo)

Laki Crater Row, Iceland (my photo)

I have just completed a month-long artist residency in the village of Laugarvatn, Iceland (about an hour east of Reykjavik) at the Gullkistan Center for Creativity.  During this time I created ten watercolors, most of them with topographical overlays, in the style of my previous watercolors depicting imaginary islands.  

Inspired by two weeks of travel around the country before the residency–especially Laki Crater Row, site of a 1793 eruption that was among the largest in recorded human history–this series explores my fascination with volcanic craters that evoke the power of natural forces but are at the same time self-contained, accessible and human-scaled.  In particular, these works aim to accentuate the other-worldliness of these features. Created by forces from another (subterranean) world and often contrasting markedly with their surroundings in color or texture, they often appear like alien objects in the landscape.  In their distinctness they come across as ominous but also isolated, subdued and vulnerable. 

VILLAGE VOLCANO

VILLAGE VOLCANO

BOGS

BOGS

GREEN

GREEN

FISSURE

FISSURE

Fusion Art I "The Natural World"

I'm happy to announce that my oil painting REFUGIUM has received 3rd place in Fusion Art's international juried online exhibition "The Natural World."

This work was inspired in large part by memories and photographs from a 2009 visit to Lord Howe Island, off the southeastern coast of Australia. Lord Howe, only 3km wide by 11km long, contains a striking diversity of landscapes and vegetation (not to mention stunning scenery) given its small size. The island’s narrow northern half is relatively low and covered by rainforest, grading into dense scrub in steep and rocky areas. In contrast, the southern half is composed of two towering peaks, Mount Lidgbird and the slightly taller Mount Gower. A challenging and dizzying hike, much of it skirting sheer cliffs, accesses a unique “mist forest” carpeting the latter’s 875m summit. Composed mostly of species found nowhere else, the most prominent including two palms and the Lord Howe Island currawong (pictured below, still unafraid of humans), this magical forest is markedly different than the drier landscape below. Yet the lowland forest is still considered “rainforest,” and–containing its own two endemic palms–is relatively lush. In the painting, I was inspired to accentuate the distinction between the two forest types by making the lowlands more arid.

The composition represents an ecological journey. It begins in the lower left at the summit of Mount Gower, overlooking the island’s coral lagoon and lowland hills covered by dry forest. To the right, the mist forest closes in overhead, with the slopes of Mt. Lidgbird visible in the distance across a valley. (These foreground views are based loosely on the photographs below.) Far below, the dry hills continue into the background; in the painting’s upper right fragment, they become steadily drier and arc westward, enclosing the lagoon. Finally, shown in the upper left, the hills end in a rocky desert peninsula studded with succulents, forming the island’s northwestern tip.

The lush foreground views, portraying what is both on canvas and in reality an ecosystem found nowhere else, I see as a sanctuary for species hemmed in by ocean and aridity. I imagine that as the climate warms and dries, the arid lowlands will creep upward, and these species will have nowhere to go. Hopefully, the very summit will be spared, and act as a “refugium” (a habitat providing refuge for species though a period of inhospitable climate) for species like the currawong–here eyeing with uncertainty the ominous landscape below.

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Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery I "SeaScapes" 2016 Art Exhibition

light space time_gallery_seacoasts_certificate

More good luck with Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery - my work Colonies (oil on canvas, 60"x44") has received a Special Merit Award in the gallery's 6th Annual "SeaScapes" Art Competition.  2D and 3D artists from around the world were asked to submit works on subjects including "scenes of coastal living, any ocean activites, seaside visas and any related seashore subjects." 

 

 

excerpts from SAUCER ISLAND: A FIELD GUIDE

The Field Guide, like Saucer Island itself - depicted by a series of works in the watercolors gallery - is invented.   (There is in fact another Saucer Island, in Myanmar, but I'm confident that few people will confuse the two.)  These "excerpts" describe how I imagine the island's physical geography, climate, ecology, flora, and visitor attractions.   

Physical Geography 

Saucer island is roughly oval-shaped, about 4km in length by 3.3 km in width. It is situated 185km from the mainland; the nearest landmass, Conch Island, is approximately 60km to the northeast. The island’s name is in fact a misnomer, because the extinct volcano (also called Saucer) that created most of its landmass has a very pronounced rim, rising to 290m at its highest point (Green Peak) from just 20m at the lowest point of the crater floor.  The island’s other significant feature is Pug’s Nose Volcano, about 1km in diameter, protruding from the southwest coast and rising to 65m at its highest point.  Between the two volcanoes is The Saddle, a zone of rugged lava fields created during the island’s most recent eruption in the mid-1700’s.  A narrow coastal plain, composed mostly of sandy beaches, encircles the island - except for two zones just below the highest peaks in the southwest, and an area of cliffs on the north flank of Pug’s Nose Volcano.  Fringing and patch coral reefs parallel the entire coastline at varying distances from shore.  

Climate

Saucer Island experiences a tropical climate with essentially no seasonal variation in temperature or precipitation.  Rainfall levels vary dramatically, however, across the island.  The East Rim of the main volcano rises high enough and steeply enough in the direct path of the trade winds to create a zone of high orographic rainfall and cast a rain shadow over the land to the west.  Green Peak is the island’s wettest point, receiving an average of 2600mm of precipitation annually, much of it in the form of mist.  The coastline below is slightly drier, receiving just over 1800mm.  In contrast, the western rim receives only 380mm of rainfall per year on average.  The driest part of the island is Lime Beach on the northwest coast (the name references the white sand, not green vegetation), with only 250mm of precipitation annually.  Pug’s Nose Volcano as a whole receives roughly the same amount as the western rim of Saucer.

Ecology and Flora

The wet Eastern Escarpment supports true rainforest, grading into cloud forest near the summit of Green Peak.  At all elevations the forest is of relatively low stature, with trees rarely exceeding 10m in height due to strong winds and steep topography.  Covering a relatively level, poorly-drained zone atop the crater rim just west of Sunrise Peak, the rainforest grades into a treeless bog (known simply as The Bog) characterized by ferns, grasses, and scattered shrubs.  These wet ecosystems support several endemic plant species, all relatively inconspicuous with the notable exception of the tree fern Cyathea attenuata, distinctive because of its highly tapered stem.  It can be seen along the entire eastern rim, but its highest concentrations are found in the upper reaches of the rim’s western slope, growing out of a meadow-like understory.  Sparser populations creep farther downslope, before rapidly giving way to desert shrubs at roughly 100m above the crater floor. 

Traveling westward along the rim, the vegetation grows gradually sparser and shorter, grading into a miniature savanna of low acacia-like trees and scattered thorny shrubs.  This open forest ultimately gives way to a near-desert dotted by spreading shrubs of the same species reaching no more than 1m in height.  The shrubs continue to thin out approaching the coastline, until nearly disappearing in the vicinity of Lime Beach.  The floor of the crater itself is equally barren; heavy clays mixed with mineral deposits create an especially hostile environment for vegetation, with the exception of several tiny shrub and succulent species.

The vegetation of Pug’s Nose Volcano closely resembles that of Saucer Volcano’s rim just to the east, with plant densities becoming sparser inside the crater and toward the west.  Notable, however, is the prevalence of the candle cactus (Cereus pseudocandelabra), endemic to Saucer and Conch Islands and so named because of the bright yellowish, waxy surface of its typically un-branched stems. Growing in scattered clumps and generally not exceeding 1m in height, the species is common across both the inner and outer slopes.  Conspicuous succulents are surprisingly rare across the island, but other populations of candle cacti can be found behind Lime Beach (also growing up to 1m high), and more significantly in parts of The Saddle.  Here, they can reach much larger statures, with some specimens attaining 4m.

Access and Attractions

Ferries running between the mainland and South Saddle Beach bring day visitors, overnight campers, and guests of the exclusive Candle Cactus Lodge, to and from the island four days per week.  (There are no docking facilities, and thus all landings are made by rowboat.)

The vast majority of visitors arrive and depart the same day, and choose to remain at South Saddle Beach.  However, several day hikes of easy to moderate difficulty are available without a guide.  These follow trails accessing overlooks on the rims of both volcanoes and circumnavigating the entire Saucer Crater.  Guided hikes traversing both craters, across The Saddle to picturesque North Saddle Beach, and descending the precipitous grades down to Grape Beach on the east coast, provide access to more challenging and ecologically-sensive terrain.  All guided and non-guided hikes can be accomplished in a single day, but single-night camping is permitted on Grape Beach and Long Beach and provides for more immersive experiences. 

Saucer Island contains no permanent structures with the exception of two zones. The first, on the wet East Rim, incorporates two Fern Pavilions. These simple but elegant wood and thatch structures are linked to each other, and to the edge of the coastal cliffs across The Bog, by a narrow boardwalk.  The second zone, situated at the northern end of The Saddle, is the Candle Cactus Lodge - a three-room luxury lodge reached by a short but difficult 500m hike north across the lava fields from South Saddle Beach and nestled among giant lava rocks and stands of cacti.  The intimate restaurant-bar serves guests as well as day visitors with reservations.  Short trails from the lodge to North Saddle Beach and the rim of Pug’s Nose Volcano are well-marked and well-surfaced.  

SF Open Studios 2016

To my left, overall view of Saucer Island with various overlays

To my left, overall view of Saucer Island with various overlays

Great showing for this fall's SF Open Studios in the Journal Building last weekend. Here are some shots of my exhibit, focusing on my SAUCER ISLAND series of watercolors (with partial overlays of topography, hiking trails and place names drawn in pen on plastic).  At the center is an overall view of the island next to excerpts from a "field guide" - imaginary, like the island itself.  To left and right are enlargements, at progressively smaller scales, of the the dry western and wet eastern sides of the island. 

Enlargements of the dry west side of the island

Enlargements of the dry west side of the island

Enlargements of the wet east side of the island

Enlargements of the wet east side of the island

watercolor explorations

Several months ago I decided to focus (for now at least) full-time on my artwork.  Since then, maybe in the spirit of this new-found freedom, I've been using watercolors to depict aerial views of imaginary islands - unconstrained by photography or specific memories.  I'm taking this unbounded approach one step further by largely letting the medium do its own thing (which watercolor tends to do), guided by the technique of scratching the paper with my fingernails to encourage the paint to flow and pool in unpredictable ways that happen to resemble rocks or vegetation. As a result, I'm finding myself a lot more at ease as I create these works than I was during my oil painting phase, even as I relinquish some of the control that I yearn to exert by inventing these environments to begin with.  I always experienced the oil painting as more of a design/intellectual process than as an opportunity for emotional expression or release, and I realize now that I probably need both. The watercolors, so far, are doing a better job as a happy medium (no pun intended).

In one important sense I am still treating some of the watercolors as design projects, imposing structure on unruly places - by incorporating trail networks and a few pieces of architecture with associated outdoor spaces.  (These interventions are also allowing me to keep the design impulses busy, and much happier than when they were when constrained to real projects in the office.) I'm taking an additional cue from the design process by overlaying portions of the paintings with topography, circulation and architectural components drawn in pen on clear plastic.  

SF Open Studios 2016 is coming up this weekend, and my exhibit will focus on "Saucer Island," depicted in a series of scaled enlargements like a typical landscape architectural design.  

canary islands I lanzarote I conclusion

In this post I round off my thoughts on the works of Cesar Manrique, an artist and architect who had a transformational impact on the environment of his native Lanzarote.  (In addition to his signature buildings and landscapes, he was also responsible for a policy stipulating that all structures on Lanzarote adhere to the color scheme of the island's tradtional architecture -  white with green trim.  Shockingly it's been adopted almost without exception, including industrial buildings.)  I'm very surprised that his name isn't more well-known beyond the islands.  

Below are images of the two spaces that made the biggest impression on me.  El Taro de Tahiche was the artist's home, and is now a museum showcasing a wide array of his two- and three-dimensional works and housing the Cesar Manrique Foundation.  The building itself is nestled into a lava field; its cavelike lower-level rooms are connected by a series of tunnels, and by several courtyards open to the sky.  The constructed surfaces are all finished with white plaster, sculpted into smooth, sinuous forms that contrast dramatically with the dark, jagged lava rock while somehow seeming to flow naturally out of it.   

Los Jameos del Agua, built into a partially-collapsed lava tube, is of similar concept and aesthetic.  But with its cavernous spaces, colorfully lit at night and including several restaurants and even a theater, I found this site to represent an even more moving synthesis of built and natural.   

El Taro de Tahiche, tunnel through lava (my photo)

El Taro de Tahiche, tunnel through lava (my photo)

El Taro de Tahiche, pool and planting pocket (my photo)

El Taro de Tahiche, pool and planting pocket (my photo)

Wall art by Manrique (my photo)

Wall art by Manrique (my photo)

Los Jameos de Agua, central pool in collapsed portion of lava tube (my photo)

Los Jameos de Agua, central pool in collapsed portion of lava tube (my photo)

Los Jameos de Agua, lava tube cafe terraces (my photo)

Los Jameos de Agua, lava tube cafe terraces (my photo)

jameos de agua-manrique-lava tube-cave-lanzarote-canary islands
Los Jameos de Agua, lava tube theater (my photo)

Los Jameos de Agua, lava tube theater (my photo)

During my years of travel, the places that have typically stuck with me most (and, clearly, provided fodder for nearly all of my artwork to date)  have been minimally affected by humans. (I reason that this is because I view even the most impressive cultural monuments as a little less impressive for the very fact that they can be attributed to human effort or ingenuity.  I figure, "Of course they turned out well...people wanted them to!" The built elements that do excite me tend to be vernacular, rather than designed, structures or landscapes - with a close relationship to their natural contexts.)   But Cesar Manrique's work had a profound impact on me.  In large part, this is because of the way he has managed to turn the stark contrast between architecture and rock into a unifying element.  There's a certain tenderness of design and execution that makes the integration work...as if the soft architectural forms are caressing the rugged lava rock into partial submission.   And, as I write this now, I realize this taming of wildness, not through elimiinating it but by framing and isolating  pieces of it, is very similar to what I strive to do in my own work.

There's also a playful element throughout Manrique's work that has some role in this "taming" effect, from the little pockets of succulents worked into the surfaces, to whimsically abstract animal drawings and sculptures and comically suggestive restroom signage.  In an earlier post, when referencing The Little Prince, I mentioned ideas I've had about integrating a similar playful element into my work, to bring about a similar mollifying effect.  Manrique's example has provided me with additional inspiration to experiment with this concept.

Manrique died tragically when he was hit by a car in a roundabout just meters from his house, one that he had wanted re-designed because of safety concerns.   There are only a handful of people I regret not being sufficiently familiar with (or interested in)  when they were alive to have met them in person, and he is one of them.  (Roberto Burle-Marx, who had a similar transformational effect on Brazilian landscape architecture, is another.)

My only disappointment with his work is that none of it involved volcanic craters.   I recently wrote to the Cesar Manrique Foundation, whose mission includes supporting the work of other artists, asking if they would be interested in funding a project inspired by the island's history of human interaction with craters. Unfortunately, because of Spain's economic difficulties, they are no longer funding artists; but, I'm hoping I can still find a way to further explore this topic.  

Darren

 

 

Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery I "Landscapes" 2016 Art Exhibition

I'm pleased to announce that my work High Desert has been selected for a Special Merit Award in Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery's "Landscapes" 2016 Art Exhibition.  The competition, open to 2D and 3D artists from around the world, asks entrants to submit "their best representational and non-representational art" portraying "the natural world, outdoor scenery, geographical environments, scenic vistas and related landscape subjects."

Please see the text above, and Press Release below, for links.  At right is a link to a slide show of the Exhibition. 

light space time online gallery-landscape art exhibition

canary islands I lanzarote I volcanoes and cesar manrique

Timanfaya National Park (my photo)

Timanfaya National Park (my photo)

I'll finish up my series of postings on the Canary Islands with Lanzarote - the easternmost island of the archipelago, as well as the lowest and one of the driest.  Given its relative lack of ecological diversity and (surprisingly) of large succulents, its main attraction for me was its volcanic landscapes.  Craters are scattered across the island, most notably in the moonscape of Timanfaya National Park, formed during a prolonged period of vulcanism during the mid-18th century.  

Disappointingly, very little of the National Park is accessible by foot.  A bus tour gives a good impression of the overall landscape, but none of the craters can be visited by the general public.  So, more rewarding was hiking around slightly less surreal but still dramatic craters on other parts of the island. Most interesting were those containing the remnants of agricultural terraces. This "taming" of a landscape typically thought of as inaccessible, if not treacherous, is a theme that has long captivated me (and that I also explore in my Tenerife entries).   

Isla Graciosa, just offshore from the main island (my photo).  I was disappointed not to have the chance to go, but it's a bit of an ordeal to get to, and probably not easy to get around. 

Isla Graciosa, just offshore from the main island (my photo).  I was disappointed not to have the chance to go, but it's a bit of an ordeal to get to, and probably not easy to get around. 

Volcanic craters with terracing (my photo)

Volcanic craters with terracing (my photo)

Even the most inhospitable parts of island are productive.  These arc-shaped walls protect grape vines from the wind (my photo). 

Even the most inhospitable parts of island are productive.  These arc-shaped walls protect grape vines from the wind (my photo). 

Entrance to El Mirador del Rio, an observatory (overlooking Isla Graciosa pictured above) built into lava cliffs (my photo)

Entrance to El Mirador del Rio, an observatory (overlooking Isla Graciosa pictured above) built into lava cliffs (my photo)

This integration of human agency with a seemingly inhospitable landscape manifests itself in various forms across the island, most uniquely in the work of the artist and architect Cesar Manrique.  Manrique (1919-1992) had an outsized influence on the built environment of Lanzarote, most notably through the design of a series of indoor and outdoor spaces merged seamlessly and whimsically into lava formations and other landforms.  I was fortunate to visit five of them, three of which are pictured here.  The other two - El Casa Taro de Tahiche (Manrique's home, now a museum) and Los Jameos de Agua (a series of spaces built into a partially collapsed lava tube) - I found to be the most remarkable, and will say more about them in a later post. 

Darren 

Restaurant, El Mirador del Rio (my photo)

Restaurant, El Mirador del Rio (my photo)

Artwork at entrance to El Jardin de Cactus (my photo)\

Artwork at entrance to El Jardin de Cactus (my photo)\

El Jardin de Cactus, a garden of succulents built into an old quarry (my photo)

El Jardin de Cactus, a garden of succulents built into an old quarry (my photo)

Museo LagOmar, a home (now a museum) designed by architect Jesus Soto with strong inspiration and input from Manrique (my photo).  The property was owned, for a single day until he lost it in a game of bridge, by Omar Sharif. 

Museo LagOmar, a home (now a museum) designed by architect Jesus Soto with strong inspiration and input from Manrique (my photo).  The property was owned, for a single day until he lost it in a game of bridge, by Omar Sharif. 

LagOmar (my photo)

LagOmar (my photo)

LagOmar (my photo)

LagOmar (my photo)

canary islands I la gomera I the ecotone

Aerial photo, showing the abrupt transition from green to brown

Aerial photo, showing the abrupt transition from green to brown

Despite its much lower elevation (the highest point, Alto de Garajonay, rises to only 1487m), La Gomera displays a much more dramatic wet-dry ecological transition - between cloud forest and near-desert - than does Tenerife.   One reason is that La Gomera's laurisilva is better-preserved and more contiguous.  Another is that because of the island's lower topography, there is no intervening pine forest along the central ridge dividing the north and south, as there is along the ridgeline extending eastward from Tenerife's Caldera de las Canadas and surrounding the caldera itself.  Finally, whereas the two ecosystems do occur directly adjacent to one another along the narrow Peninsula de Anaga  at Tenerife's eastern end,  the topography is so steep that the transition from forested ridge to desert slopes appears as though it could result as much from differences in water retention as precipitation.  In contrast, the topography at the top of La Gomera is relatively gentle, making the transition seem even more exceptional, and more clearly climate-induced.  

Remnant patch of transitional forest, with semi-desert beginning at the right side (my photo)

Remnant patch of transitional forest, with semi-desert beginning at the right side (my photo)

Path of the 2012 fire

Path of the 2012 fire

This ecotone may be the most dramatic of any I've experienced anywhere.  But, as I mentioned earlier, it was disappointing in its own way.  In 2012, a fire beginning at the mouth of the Valle Gran Rey in the southwest swept across the island, just to the south of the central ridge, destroying nearly all the southern fringes of the cloud forest where it meets the arid southern slopes.  From what I could tell, only a tiny segment of the transition remains largely intact, and unfortunately it can't be accessed continuously along a single route.  But I was able to walk through a patch of low (about 2m high), very dense "forest" of large shrubs that seems to be a transitional environment between the two extremes:  the semi-arid landscape sloping away to the south just a few meters beyond, and the full-fledged cloud forest about a 10-minute walk in the other direction.   The low stature, gnarled trunks, tiny thick leaves, and prevalent mosses make the interior somewhat reminiscent of an elfin cloud forest atop a windy ridge.  The experience of standing in such a forest at the edge of a semi-desert was electrifying, perhaps even more so knowing that at present, it can be had nowhere else on the island (or perhaps in the entire archipelago).  

Charred transitional forest with Alto de Gajaronay in the distance (my photo)

Charred transitional forest with Alto de Gajaronay in the distance (my photo)

Of course, though, I would have preferred the experience to have been much more widespread and accessible, at the cost of its feeling only slightly less exceptional.  In walking the gentle slopes up to the island's highest point, it was disheartening to see for myself the mostly charred and leafless transitional forest lining the trail (save a layer of new growth on the ground surface) and falling away to the south into a layer of fog.  A display at the summit featuring an image of a clear, pre-fire view to the south, showing the tantalizing transition from green to brown within a short hike , didn't help matters.   But I do wonder now whether, on a clear day, the sight of the short trees - even if leafless - and green carpet of new growth fading into rock and scrub in the distance would have brought some measure of excitement or additional aggravation. 

Darren

Display showing pre-fire transition from green to brown (my photo)

Display showing pre-fire transition from green to brown (my photo)

canary islands I la gomera I overview

Laurisilva in Garajonay National Park (my photo)

Laurisilva in Garajonay National Park (my photo)

Laurisilva interior (my photo)

Laurisilva interior (my photo)

The second island of my visit, La Gomera, is situated just west of Tenerife.  At roughly 20km in diameter it covers only a fraction of that island's area, yet rising abruptly to an elevation of  1,484m  it still contains a striking amount of ecological diversity. Cloaking the center of the island is the world's largest and most pristine remaining tract of laurisilva forest, mostly contained within Garajonay National Park.  With its abundant ferns and mosses and relatively low stature, its atmosphere somewhat resembles that of a Costa Rican cloud forest minus the palms, tree ferns and strangler figs. The coastline is a great deal drier, particularly in the rain shadow along the southern coast, where it approaches desert.  Many of these areas have been colonized by cacti and agaves, but in more remote spots, native succulents are abundant. (Disappointingly though, the columnar Euphorbia canariensis  so common on Tenerife seems to be relatively rare.)

Succulents along the dry east coast (my photo)

Succulents along the dry east coast (my photo)

Terraced valley walls above Hermigua (my photo)

Terraced valley walls above Hermigua (my photo)

Lower reaches of the laurisilva near the National Park boundary (my photo)

Lower reaches of the laurisilva near the National Park boundary (my photo)

The transition from wet to dry is more dramatic in the south for several additional reasons.  First, the slope from the center of the island down to the coast is more gradual than in the north, where the central plateau drops off precipitously.  With the more dramatic topography, it's less clear whether the tailing off of the forest is the result of decreasing precipitation or weaker footholds.  Second, while the entire island is cut by deep valleys running from the interior to the coast, the wetter valleys in the north and west are heavily cultivated, largely obscuring the ecological transitions that would normally occur along their lengths.  I was able to experience one of these northern transitions during a hike from the village of Hermigua, at the mouth of one of these valleys, inland to the head of the valley at the lower reaches of the National Park.  The hour-long walk began among overgrown gardens and fields, and then wound up slopes covered by a mixture of invasive shrubs and native and exotic succulents.  That vegetation soon gave way to a tangle of dense native shrubs, scattered with Canary Island date palms, that gradually grew into more substantial cloud forest.  Despite the clear transition from scrubby slopes to forest, the non-native plants at the lower elevations ( combined with unusually wet weather) made the entire hike relatively green, and less dramatic than I would have liked.  The transition on the south side of the island, which I'll deal with in a later post, had its own disappointments, but turned out to be much more memorable.    

 

Given the deep valleys arrayed radially across the island, there is no coastal ring road as on Tenerife.  Instead, a series of roads more-or-less parallel the valleys, running from isolated coastal villages and joining in the forest at the top of the island.  One one hand, this makes for an exciting diversity of landscapes along almost every route, and the valleys themselves provide scenery rivaling the Hawaiian Islands.  (In a number of them are groves of Phoenix canariensis approaching forest-like densities, among terraced fields or in semi-natural areas. These valleys contain the largest populations of the species in the archipelago.)  But, on the other hand,  the complex topography and the limited travel routes make the island seem much bigger than it is, and its ecological diversity less "compressed"  than it would be on a perfectly rounded or cone-shaped island.  One day, an idealized island like this will make it into a painting.

Darren

Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palms) in a valley inland from the west coast (my photo)

Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palms) in a valley inland from the west coast (my photo)

Date palms in the Valle Gran Rey near the west coast (my photo)

Date palms in the Valle Gran Rey near the west coast (my photo)



canary islands I tenerife I conclusion and future projects

As mentioned in the last post, while dejected at the expectation of not being able to visit the summit crater, I began contemplating future artworks that would channel my frustration.  Instead of representing the actual crater, I would depict it how I imagined it to be, or how I wanted it to be - human-scaled, with an element of fragility.  While the actual visit may have removed some of the imaginative element, it still left me with thoughts on how I might portray the crater and summit in an idealized way.

One idea is to depict the crater even smaller, and place on its rim some form of incongruous human element (a rocking chair or beach umbrella comes to mind). This would have the effect of both emphasizing the human scale of the crater and "domesticating" it, in a way that might bring a few other things to mind:

From The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

From The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

(Oddly I don't remember The Little Prince having a profound effect on me when I was young...more so when I read it in high school French class.  I think my volcano interest way back then was more in the violent, explosive kind.  On the other hand The Twenty-One Balloons, which I remember as the story of a bucolic, manicured settlement on the island of Krakatoa, struck more of a chord.)  

A work with this theme might be smaller than my typical 4'x4'-and-up dimensions, in keeping with the idea of miniaturization.  The trick would be to achieve the right mood; I would hope to strike a balance between ominous and playful/cartoonish, since the latter alone seems a little less interesting.  The atmosphere will probably depend on lot on how the human element is depicted.  (I've been working with this challenge in my current painting, At the Aloes, which is the first to include anything constructed.)

The eastern half of Tenerife from the summit (my photo)

The eastern half of Tenerife from the summit (my photo)

Volcan del Teide, with a dusting of snow at sunset, from the airplane (my photo)

Volcan del Teide, with a dusting of snow at sunset, from the airplane (my photo)

Another project - one that I had been thinking about for a long time - came again to the front of my mind while driving around the Tenerife, and viewing it from above on the summit of Mt.Teide and from an ariplane window.  It involves walking all the roads and trails of a small, ecologically-diverse island while taking photographs at some constant interval (say every 100m).  The resulting images would be combined and overlaid over a giant aerial photograph, ideally leaving few gaps, to create a complete "picture" of the island's diversity.  In a sense, it would be a much-expanded version of my photo-montages that represent ecologically-diverse islands.  

The key would be to find the island with the best possible combination of high ecological diversity, small land area, and relatively little elevation change.  Tenerife may or may not qualify, but in any case its area would involve too large of a time investment for a first-time attempt.  I've tentatively decided to try out the idea on the Caribbean island of Sabacovering only 13 square kilometers but encompassing a transition from semi-desert to cloud forest.  At the moment I'm trying to set up a collaboration with researchers at the Saba Conservation Foundation, which would likely mean combining the photography with some other form of data (climatological, topographical).  This approach would give the outcome a greater reach.  But otherwise, I would still try to make it happen on my own.  Stay tuned for updates as this materializes.

The island of Saba

The island of Saba

 

canary islands I tenerife I volcan del teide

Volcan del Teide from the floor of the caldera (my photo)

Volcan del Teide from the floor of the caldera (my photo)

Teide from the north slope of the island (my photo)

Teide from the north slope of the island (my photo)

Reaching the summit of Volcan del Teide - the highest point in Spain at 3,718m - is relatively easy.  The road crossing the caldera leads to the base of the volcano, and from there it's possible to either hike (5 hours), or take a cable car, to a point just below the summit.  The remaining half-hour walk, through a fragile alpine ecosystem, is restricted to a controlled number of visitors who purchase a permit beforehand.  Visiting the actual summit was one of my main goals of the trip, and not primarily for the views.  Mostly, I wanted to experience the crater that, from a distance, looks like a tiny indentation in a peak resembling the little tail at the top of an ice cream sundae.  My fascination with volcanic craters atop prominent peaks stems largely from the sense of control I feel from being able to safely approach (and ideally enter) a landform that was shaped by such strong and inhospitable forces.  Tiny craters  - ones I can cross or circum-navigate in less than a minute or two -  are the most entrancing because they feel especially "tamed,"  and even vulnerable.  But I developed a particularly powerful obsession with Mt. Teide's summit crater not only because of its scale, but because of its diminutiveness juxtaposed with its position at the very top of such a large island, by volcanic island standards.  Though the summit crater is the result of only one particular set of (relatively recent) eruptions, I pictured walking around and around it, imagining that it had managed to create the entire island.     

The slope of Teide from the cable car (my photo)

The slope of Teide from the cable car (my photo)

To my dismay, I discovered that I had waited too long to apply online for a permit to reach the summit during my time on the island, or to book a room at the mountain lodge where a one-night stay included a sunrise hike to the top.  I immediately began thinking about how likely it would be that I'd be able to return to the islands sometime soon (after all, there were four islands I'd be missing on this trip), and in the meantime, how I might make the best out of the situation by using my frustration as fuel for future artwork (more on this in a later post).  I decided that in any event, I should at least go ahead and visit the observation point just below the summit.  So, on an unusually clear morning, I took the 20-minute cable car ride, lacking the motivation to do a 5-hour hike to a point just short of where I ultimately wished I could go.

View of the summit from the top of the cable car (my photo)

View of the summit from the top of the cable car (my photo)

I managed to run into a guide who was leading a group of visitors to the summit, and she said I might pretend to be part of her group in the event that the rangers decided not to match each permit with each individual passport.  Standing in line, at the same time I saw that they were indeed checking passports, I noticed how easy it would be to simply sneak around some big rocks and access the summit trail.  So, in one of my few ever acts of unlawfullness, I managed to turn a major disappointment into one of the highlights of the trip.  (I justified the transgression with the certainty that one day, publicity generated from the resulting artwork would more than outweigh the negligible ecological damage one extra person might have caused.)

The sensation of reaching the rim of the crater, and walking halfway around it, was everything I had hoped for.  The interior was inaccessible, but the steaming surface (the volcano is technically still active) actually reinforced the idea that a massive, violent force beneath the earth was being constricted into a tiny dimple at the top of the island.   Equally powerful was the feeling that the entire island was being "gathered up" into this one single point just a few meters in diameter.  (I think this is a bit different from the typical "top-of-the-world" exhilaration that people tend to experience at the tops of summits.)  It would've been even more dramatic had the island been one giant cinder cone - then the summit and the rest of the island would truly be inseparable parts of the same form.  But, the Tenerife summit definitely doesn't feel -  or look, from a distance -  simply like a mountain plopped on top of an island, in the way Kilimanjaro just sits on top of a continent and happens to be its highest point. 

Darren

Panoramic of the summit crater from the rim, with the floor and rim of the caldera visible below.  In the center-left of the crater are researchers measuring temperatures. (my photo)

Panoramic of the summit crater from the rim, with the floor and rim of the caldera visible below.  In the center-left of the crater are researchers measuring temperatures. (my photo)

canary islands I tenerife I seen and unseen

In this post I'll expand on the Caldera de las Canadas at the summit of Tenerife, specifically my experience of its relationship to the rest of the island.  As I mention before, much of the reason the surrounding landscape is invisible from the floor of the caldera is topographical.  But, at least at the times I was there, the reason was equally meteorological.  The mountains ringing the caldera were usually holding back a layer of cloud; thus, from vantage points on the Montana de Guajara, the island's third highest peak and the highest point on the rim of the caldera, the caldera floor was clear while the other side of the rim was mostly obscured. 

So, even while standing at the top of the rim, I felt as though I were in a special world set apart from the rest of the island.  But more significantly, the knowledge that I was standing at the very edge of this world was as empowering as the experience of standing at the boundary between any two contrasting landscapes.  And, the fact that I could only see one of them clearly - the caldera, but not the forests and semiarid coastline - had the unexpected effect of heightening the contrast rather than lessening it.  At times, the mist did dissipate in spots to reveal a hint of pines creeping through gaps in the hills below below the rim, at the ecotone between the pine forest and the alpine highlands.  Thinking about it now, this experience of standing on the very edge of the visible world, interspersed with glimpses of another one beyond (as I had originally been hoping for), was probably the one most capable of giving me a sense of "control" over the island's upper reaches. 

View along the rim of the caldera, with the caldera floor visible beneath the clouds at left (my photo)

View along the rim of the caldera, with the caldera floor visible beneath the clouds at left (my photo)

A glimpse of the uppermost reaches of pine forest, through a gap in the hills just below the rim (my photo)

A glimpse of the uppermost reaches of pine forest, through a gap in the hills just below the rim (my photo)

Pine forest interior (my photo)

Pine forest interior (my photo)

Several days later, weather conditions similarly muddled an opportunity to experience the ecological transition from forest to alpine - a hike from the pines to the lower reaches of the lava flows at the opposite side of the caldera.  Mist hid any views of what lay ahead, and rain ultimately prevented me from completing the route (when forced to turn back, the lava flows had begun to appear, but were still interspersed with bits of forest).  But once again, that the full extent of the transition remained shrouded in mystery created an effect more powerful than clear skies would have produced.  In my mind, the two places coexisted, but in the real world they remained distinct.  The full strength of the contrast was preserved.  

Darren

 

 

 

canary islands I tenerife

Close-up aerial view, Caldera de las Canadas and surrounding pine-forested slopes, from the northeast

Close-up aerial view, Caldera de las Canadas and surrounding pine-forested slopes, from the northeast

Tenerife, the first island that I visited, is the most ecologically diverse of the archipelago.  Traveling inland from the north coast (mostly urban and agricultural), a Mediterranean climate transitions into relics of laurisilva, then forests of Pinus canariensis (Canary Island pine), and finally the bleak lava desert of the Caldera de las Canadas with the 3,718m Volcan del Teide rising from its floor.  To the south, the caldera falls back into pine forest, which gradually thins out into an agricultural zone and then semi-desert along the southern coast.

The transitions themselves were not as dramatic as I had been hoping, partly due to human impact on many of these areas but also the fact that much of the spatial changes in vegetation are the result of geology or topography (steep slopes, lava) rather than climate/elevation alone.  (One of my ideal islands is one that rises from sea level to summit with a perfectly constant slope and no changes in soil type.)  Geology is certainly the driving factor at the edge of the caldera where the pine trees end suddenly, giving way to a landscape of sparse shrubs and grasses.  Nevertheless, I found the caldera fascinating - not because of what happens at the edges, but because of the experience of being surrounded by a landscape so entirely different from, and set apart from, the rest of the island. 

The caldera, looking toward the southwest (my photo)

The caldera, looking toward the southwest (my photo)

Most calderas, formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption or series of eruptions, are at least partially bowl-like; this one is bounded from the southwest to the southeast by an arc of mountains and ridges, and on the northeast by Volcan del Teide and smaller Pico Viejo.  Thus, the experience of entering the caldera, particularly along the road approaching from the south through a gap in the ridge, is one of passing abruptly into an isolated, alien world.  Normally I would regret not being able to see one from the other more easily (I was later able to do so from the tops of the peaks...more on this later) - to experience the extremes of the island all at once.  But in fact the caldera's separateness reinforced its contrast with the rest of the island in an entirely different way - by "removing" itself from the island completely.  I felt as though I was on a different island, but knew that I wasn't.

I was reminded that I'd had this type of experience before - of being in a unique, self-contained landscape from which the surrounding world was invisible  (usually on a mountaintop rising above the clouds).  And, in these situations, I usually wished I could have it both ways - to be in that special, isolated world, and also to experience that world and the surrounding one at the same time.  In writing this now, I realize that this interplay adds another layer of complexity to the driving force behind my works up to this point, particularly those dealing with sharp ecological contrasts.  As I mention in my Statement, the hard edges between the different scenes are a relict of these individual places' existing far away from each other in reality; the new places I've created are meant to be experienced as a single entity.  But, could it be that the individual scenes are actually more like the caldera and the surrounding island, in that they can't really be experienced simultaneously, and yet the very knowledge of the other environments' existence nearby is powerful enough?  Most likely there isn't a firm distinction between the two scenarios.  If I were magically to enter the paintings, some of the contrasting environments would always be visible and easily accessible from one another; others would be sometimes isolated and sometimes not; and others always would always feel apart.  I suppose the middle ground (no pun intended) would be a mountain or island summit off-and-on encircled by cloud, the landscape below alternately masked and revealed.  I like thinking about the high parts of Cloud Snag, Two-Sided Lake and High Desert in this way.

I'll further expand on these ideas in the next post, as I continue my thoughts on Tenerife.

Darren

Panoramic of the caldera from northeast to southeast, with Volcan del Teide on the left (my photo)

Panoramic of the caldera from northeast to southeast, with Volcan del Teide on the left (my photo)

View along the southeastern rim of the caldera, with cloudbank beyond (my photo)

View along the southeastern rim of the caldera, with cloudbank beyond (my photo)

Approach to Mt. Teide and the caldera from the north (my photo)

Approach to Mt. Teide and the caldera from the north (my photo)

canary islands I overview

The Macaronesian Ecoregion

The Macaronesian Ecoregion

This is the first in a series of posts on the Canary Islands, three of which I visited for three weeks in November 2014.  I'll be focusing on thoughts and images that I envision leading to further artworks, some continuing the style/approach that I've been developing over the past few years and others taking that approach in some new directions. 

The Canary Islands are part of the Macaronesian Ecoregion, a group of volcanic archipelagos that also includes the Azores, Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands.  The climate ranges from Mediterranean in the Azores to arid in Cape Verde, with the Canaries experiencing both types. Botanically, the region is notable for three primary reasons.  First, the islands' isolation from the European and African continents has led to the evolution of an array of unique species, many of them highly recognizable and widely cultivated.  These include Phoenix canariensis, the Canary Island Date Palm so familiar in similar climates throughout the world; Phoenix atlantica, a date palm endemic to Cape Verde; Dracaena draco, the Dragon Tree, from the Canaries, and numerous species of aeonium (popular rock garden succulents) also from the Canaries.  Second, the three northern archipelagos are home to the world's last remaining tracts of the laurisilva, or laurel forest, a subtropical rainforest that once covered much of the Mediterranean region when the climate was warmer and wetter.  And third, the Canaries in particular, given their altitudinal range and their location at the latitudinal midpoint of the region, experience an exciting diversity of ecosystems ranging from desert to cloud forest, pine forest, and alpine.

I chose to visit the Canaries given this last consideration in particular, but also because of my love of palms, succulents and volcanoes, and the fact that the islands contain the region's best examples of laurisilva.  (I still find it surprising that despite all of this, the great majority of visitors are beach tourists, which has unfortunately resulted in quite a bit of ugly resort development.)

Euphorbias in semi-desert, Tenerife (my photo)

Euphorbias in semi-desert, Tenerife (my photo)

The Canary Islands consist of seven main islands.  Tenerife, near the center of the archipelago, is the largest, tallest and most populated; it contains the highest peak in Spain - Volcan del Teide at 3,718m  - and contains close to the archipelago's full range of ecosystems from semi-desert through cloud forest and pine forest to alpine desert.  Several other islands extend up into the cloud forest and pine forest, while those at the eastern end of the chain are low and almost entirely desert-like.  In total, the islands' area covers only about half of that of the Big Island of Hawaii, which makes its ecological diversity even more astounding.

Darren

Phoenix canariensis, La Gomera (my photo)

Phoenix canariensis, La Gomera (my photo)

Laurisilva, La Gomera (my photo)

Laurisilva, La Gomera (my photo)

canary Islands I preview

Garajonay National Park, La Gomera

Garajonay National Park, La Gomera

Malpais de Guimar, Tenerife

Malpais de Guimar, Tenerife

Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote

Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote

I've just returned from a two-week trip to the Islands of Tenerife, La Gomera and Lanzarote in the Canaries.  This volcanic archipelago contains an incredible diversity of ecosystems, as well as unique and striking plant species (particularly succulents) and fascinating volcanic landscapes.  Soon I'll begin a series of postings going into more depth - stay tuned!

Darren