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.
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.