high desert I update

oil painting-desert-moorland-bog-kauai-death valley
oil painting-desert-moorland-bog-kauai-death valley

After creating the photo-montage version of this composition (discussed in my Feb.22, 2014 posting), I assumed it would be one that I would not ultimately convert to oils.  I felt it worked more successfully as photography than most of the other compositions, partly because of the unique textural quality of the bog portion that I thought would be difficult to capture in paint. Thus, other than Two-Sided Lake, this is the only photo-montage that I’ve converted to a large giclee print.  On one hand I think the blowing-up does give the work greater power, but while I think the resulting fuzziness contributes to the desired rough quality, the contrastingly sharp seam between the two images (which I didn’t want to eliminate completely) draws too much attention to it.  Also, the hint of ocean in the upper right never seemed very inspired since I created it entirely in Photoshop; at the larger scale, it feels even more this way. 

So, I changed my mind about not planning to paint this one.  As I suspected, it was difficult to capture the wet sponginess of the bog (the greatest possible contrast to the rocky/pebbly desert), and it took many attempts.  But overall, as I think is the case with many of the paintings, I like how the various elements have become more ambiguous, and the overall effect more dreamlike.  Plus, I had much more flexibility to experiment with bringing out the unexpected reddish hue of the bog – an environment so different in every other way from the desert – that first gave me the idea to juxtapose the two landscapes.

Darren

SF open studios 2014

sf open studios-san francisco-studio 17-darren sears-oil paintings

Here are a few images from my exhibit last weekend at SF Open Studios 2014.  We had a nice turnout; thanks to any of you viewers who may have been there!

Darren

sf open studios-san francisco-studio 17-darren sears-oil paintings

wedge I update

oil painting-prickly pair-cacti-island-ocean
guanica-puerto rico-cacti-prickly pear-island-ocean

In painting this composition, one of my goals was to heighten the ominous quality of the elements - both the water and the sky - enveloping the island.  As I discussed in my Sept. 12 posting on the photo-montage version, when visiting the habitat of these cacti on the windswept southern coast of Guanica State Park in Puerto Rico I wished they had seemed even more exposed and vulnerable than they already were.  While digital manipulation of the photographs allowed me to physically isolate the cacti on a tiny island, there was a limited amount I could do to alter the feeling of a pleasant, sunny day on the seacoast.  I wanted the island to seem even more precarious - as if the plant roots were all that were keeping it from disintegrating from the forces of water and wind.

Darren

outpost

island-oil painting-palm tree-sabal-beach
island-palm tree-ocean-beach-sabal-palm tree-curacao-christoffel-serra bientu

This composition represents the culmination of this series of works exploring increasingly isolated plant populations.  More than in Dry Patch, I wanted to depict this island as seemingly floating in space, disconnected from not only adjacent vegetation but also any other clearly recognizeable landscape -  suggesting for a moment that no other "inhabitable" environment exists anywhere.  When I created the composition I imagined the cluster of palms to be an "outpost" of a much larger population occurring on a mainland somewhere, possibly just beyond the horizon - the last dry land before thousands of miles of open ocean.  But, the empowering precariousness of the plants' situation might in fact be stronger without knowledge of this other place somewhere out of sight.

In the painting, I wanted to accentuate this feeling of vulnerability, isolation and overall surreality by emphasizing the strength of the wind and increasing the ambiguity of the surrounding components.  The section at the bottom is intended to represent shallow water over a sandy bottom, but the pieces in the upper left and upper right could represent either sea or sky - or something in-between.  That  the island looks as though it's actually starting to disintegrate, suggesting erosion by the wind and waves or even that it's made of something other than earth, was unplanned--but it does contribute to the overall mood.

Sabal palms on Serra Bientu, Curaçao (my photo)

Sabal palms on Serra Bientu, Curaçao (my photo)

Serra Bientu, with more Sabal palms in the distance (my photo)

Serra Bientu, with more Sabal palms in the distance (my photo)

The palms were photographed on the island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles at the top of a ridge called Serra Bientu ("Windy Mountain" in Papiamentu - I distinctly remember the sound of the palm fronds banging together) in Christoffel National Park.  These Sabal palms (I've strangely never been able to find out the species) are, as far as I know, found nowhere else except on this mountain.  They form nearly pure stands that quickly peter out into the surrounding dry forest.  

The density of the palms, their formal contrast with the surrounding vegetation, the topographical distinctiveness of their habitat, and in particular the fact that the entire global occurrence of the species can be seen from one spot (and probably explored within less than an hour), brought this place closer to my ideal than possibly any other I have visited. In fact, while it would have been perfect had the ridge itself been an island, I don't recall thinking this when I was there.  The ridgeline location itself probably felt sufficient enough to set the palms apart, and a water separation may have seemed unnecessarily insistent. The general sense of insularity created by the nearby ocean, however, must have contributed to the power of the experience.

Darren

wedge

  dry patch 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  
Opuntia cacti, Guanica State Forest, Puerto Rico (my photo)

Opuntia cacti, Guanica State Forest, Puerto Rico (my photo)

Similar to the previous work, the cluster of giant Opuntia cacti in this composition is synonymous with the small wedge of raised land that bounds it and sets it apart. This "island" is slightly higher along the lefthand edge, which rises about two meters above the sand; the near edge borders a freshwater stream about twenty meters wide, and the far edge slopes down perhaps a meter to a narrow ribbon of beach (not visible here) along the ocean. 

I imagine this piece of earth to be far distant from any other dry land, not only isolated by ocean in the background but also by vast expanses of beach both off to the left and behind the stream in the foreground.  I picture this stream to reach the ocean just off the right edge of the canvas.  To the left, it enters the scene after flowing out of scrubby coastal forest and across perhaps two hundred meters of flat sand. 

The cacti (including the sea beyond) were photographed in Guanica State Forest on the dry southern half of Puerto Rico - the location of the Turks Head cacti incorporated into a few of the works discussed earlier.  That these cacti stood just a few meters away from the shore (in actuality a steep drop of maybe five meters) did give them some added prominence and distinction, but nevertheless they were just one of many interesting botanical attractions stretching down the coastline.  So, naturally I wished there had been some other physical feature to set them apart.    

Also, perhaps influenced by the strong wind and choppy sea on that particular day, I wanted to strengthen the sense of these plants as exposed and vulnerable to the elements.  As I tried to express in Refuges and Rise (particularly the latter, given that in both cases I find the succulents to embody the harshness of the environment), this air of vulnerability gives me a feeling of empowerment as if I were part of that overpowering force - or even in control of that too.  This feeling is the same as that created by the plants' physical isolation which, in addition to "compressing" the landscape into something easily experienced and understood, itself suggests vulnerability.  It is as if the earth were steadily eroding away beneath them.   

Darren

colonies

  colonies 
  oil on canvas l 44"x60" l march 2010  l  contact artist for price   
   (click image to return to gallery)   
 
  colonies 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

This and the following works take the overall direction of the previous few to its logical conclusion.  In At the Aloes the island is defined almost entirely by its vegetation; here, the plants are maximally distinct from their surroundings, essentially synonymous with the islands supporting them.  The islands lack identity except as "colonies" of yuccas, which I conceive as basically rising from the ocean.

 

Yuccas and salt marsh, Laguna Atascosa (my photo)

Yuccas and salt marsh, Laguna Atascosa (my photo)

The yuccas were photographed in Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas, just a few miles north of the mouth of the Rio Grande.  Along with clumps of prickly pear cacti, they grow on "islands" of raised ground, often ridge-like, surrounded by salt marsh and presumably flooded during certain episodes of high-tide.   Just to the east is the open water of the Intracoastal Waterway, which divides South Padre Island from the mainland. 

The landscape is both otherwordly and serene, definitely one of the most fascinating places I've visited in the continental United States.  (While, like in previous situations, I would have found the experience even more intoxicating had the "islands" actually been surrounded by water, this is one of few times when it almost didn't matter.)  I basically stumbled upon the place, surprised that I had never come across images before (or seen any mention of 10-foot tall yuccas in anything I had read about the park); apparently the refuge is best-known for its birdlife.    

Darren

Yuccas with the Intracoastal Waterway behind, Laguna Atascosa (my photo)

Yuccas with the Intracoastal Waterway behind, Laguna Atascosa (my photo)

More yuccas (my photo)

More yuccas (my photo)

at the aloes

  at the aloes 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

In this photo-montage, a cluster of aloes (about a meter high, maximum) is the focal point of a long, narrow island extending into the distance. I imagine the aloes scattered all along the length of the island's rocky interior, so that in a sense the island itself is as much the focal point as the plants.

As I've discussed earlier, small islands fascinate me in general because of their clear delineation and ease of discovery. 

This is so far my only work containing clear evidence of humanity.  The inclusion of the fishing boats was a function of the photographs I had available, but right away I decided that they contribute to the concept by directing attention to the center of the composition.  It almost looks as though the boats have arrived at the island for the sole purpose of visiting the aloes...hence the title.

Nosy Ve, Madagascar, seen from offshore (my photo)

Nosy Ve, Madagascar, seen from offshore (my photo)

The images at left and right were photographed on Nose Ve (translation "Is it an Island?"), a renowned diving spot offshore from the city of Tulear in southwestern Madagascar.  The island is basically a sandbar, only a few meters wide - there are small aloes away from the beach that gave me the idea for this composition, but there are no rocks or topography.  In addition to the aloes and the unnaturally blue water (just as it appears in the photo), my ability to cross the island in a few steps was expectedly quite exciting for me.

The central image is also from Madagascar - specifically the Lokaro Peninsula in the Southeast.  I remember wishing (as usual) that these aloes were instead on an island - and given that they were growing just behind a beach, their "relocation" to Nose Ve seemed natural.

Darren 

split sand

  split sand 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

This work again depicts an island, with the wedge of land in the foreground and the beach in the upper left representing its narrow tip, split by a freshwater stream fed by some unknown source.  In the background is a salt pan, taking up perhaps three-fourths of the island's area.

The cacti - the only plants of any size - serve as a focal point for the island.  But as in Bleak Point, the spit of land they sit on is just as distinct as the cacti themselves, being the only "solid ground" on the island in this case. 

The Turks Head cacti, like in Bleak Point, were photographed in Guanica State Forest in Puerto Rico. The piece of desert beneath them, and the salt pan, were shot in Death Valley National Park, CA.  The beaches were photographed on Curaçao, in the Netherlands Antilles (more on this island in a later post).  For some reason I have a particular fascination with succulent desert vegetation on Caribbean Islands, maybe because it's somewhat unexpected - especially on otherwise wet islands where aridity results from geology (e.g. rocky or sandy soil) rather than a lack of rainfall.  I'd like still like to create a work depicting this type of environment.  (I do picture this island to exist in the Caribbean, but it is uniformly hot, bright, and almost completely barren.)

Darren

bleak point

  bleak point 
  oil on canvas l 36"x72" l November 2009  l  contact artist for price   
   (click image to return to gallery)   
   
 
  bleak point 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
   
   
  

Returning to the topic of islands, this work represents a volcanic cone rising directly out of the ocean except for a rocky, cactus-studded peninsula (or, technically, a tombolo) on one side, leading to a white-sand beach.  Unlike the last few "island" posts, the focal point here is not some feature in the interior but the cacti and peninsula, nearly surrounded by water and therefore even more clearly distinct.

Turk's head cacti, Guanica State Forest, Puerto Rico (my photo)

Turk's head cacti, Guanica State Forest, Puerto Rico (my photo)

The volcano was photographed in the Valley of the Volcanoes, Peru (described in a few earlier posts).  The cacti (Melocactus intortus, or Turks Head, common throughout the Caribbean) were shot on the dry southern coast of Puerto Rico, in the Guanica State Forest - the world's largest coastal tropical dry forest.  This area of the park, just a few meters from the rocky coastline, is characterized by low, windswept vegetation, several species of columnar and prickly-pear cacti, and even a small fan palm. 

Darren

fall

  fall 
    oil on canvas l 44"x84" l december 2009  l  contact artist for price     
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  
 
  fall 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

The place represented in this work I don't imagine as being located on an island, although it still focuses on the idea of landscapes diverse in the topographical sense.  The towering rock formations are two adjacent mountain summits, "falling" into a misty, jungle-choked valley.  This valley begins  in the center-foreground, drops precipitously into the distance, and eventually spills out into an open landscape of rolling forested hills several hundred meters below.  These foothills can be glimpsed in the upper-left portion of the composition. 

Bromeliads along the Inca Trail (my photos)

Bromeliads along the Inca Trail (my photos)

inca trail-peru-bromeliads-mist-camino-mountains

The rock formations are located on Pico das Agulhas Negras, Brazil's third-highest mountain, located in Itatiaia National Park between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.  These high elevations, which receive snow on occasion, are covered by dense, scrubby vegetation including hardy bamboo, low tree ferns, and giant red bromeliads. The park also contains tropical rainforest (covering the distant foothills) and otherworldly stands of Araucaria angustifolia (paraná pine), a relative of the Norfolk Island Pine and Chile's monkey puzzle tree.

The forested valley in the center was photographed near the end of Peru's Inca Trail - a popular three-day hiking route leading to Machu Picchu - as it begins to dip down from alpine grassland dotted with bromeliads and tree ferns into subtropical rainforest.

In Itatiaia I wasn't able to access the cloud forest directly from the alpine areas, and I'm not sure if it's even possible.  Along the Inca Trail I did witness the boundary between these two ecosystems, but the upper reaches of the forest here appeared to be scraggly and impenetrable rather than luxuriant.  So, I was inspired to "re-design" this ecological boundary, incorporating the Itatiaia rock formations to emphasize the vertical journey from alpine summit through cloud-forested valley to rain-forested lowlands. Plus, in the painting, I imagine the cloud forest to be more welcoming than in the photograph.

The location of both these places at high elevations in large mountain ranges (Brazil's Mata Atlantica and the Peruvian Andes) give them a sense of power and grandeur that perhaps discouraged me from mentally transplanting them to a small island, as I tend to do in most cases.  There may a bit of a conflict here, then, with my general attraction to "compressed" and totally "knowable" environments.  I suppose this conflict exists in all the works to some degree:  the locations depicted may not be imposing, but many I find to be at least somewhat threatening in their austerity and emptiness.  The resolution may lie in the fact that I'm thinking of the word "knowable" in the spatial sense, rather than on some deeper level.

Darren

island worlds I continued

Lord Howe Island, NSW, Australia

Lord Howe Island, NSW, Australia

This post picks up on the idea of South Pacific atolls - "ideal" islands in the sense of being easily comprehensible in terms of their geography - which I had in mind when creating Basin (see the previous entry).  The closest thing I've witnessed in person is Lord Howe Island in Australia, not technically an atoll, but similar in terms of scale and general appearance.

This World Heritage Site, about an hour's flight northeast of Sydney, is located relatively far south but in the path of a warm ocean current.  As a result, it contains a unique mixture of temperate and tropical terrestrial and marine life, including the world's southernmost coral reef. 

Trail map, Lord Howe Island

Trail map, Lord Howe Island

The island is only about 11km long by 2km wide, and most of the less rugged parts are accessible along a trail network - so it's possible to get a nearly total experience of the island's geological and ecological complexity.  At low and middle elevations, Lord Howe is covered by rainforest, somewhat temperate in appearance except for an endemic variety of strangler fig, one species of pandanus and two endemic palms - Howea forstereana and H. balmoreana.  (The second species, also known as the Kentia Palm, is a popular houseplant worldwide; the harvesting and cultivation of its seeds is the island's main industry.) 

Ficus macrophylla var. columnaris in low-elevation forest (my photo)

Ficus macrophylla var. columnaris in low-elevation forest (my photo)

Kentia palms (Howea forstereana) in low-elevation forest (my photo)

Kentia palms (Howea forstereana) in low-elevation forest (my photo)

View from one end of the island to the other, with Mts. Gower and Lidgbird at the eastern end (my photo)

View from one end of the island to the other, with Mts. Gower and Lidgbird at the eastern end (my photo)

The dramatic eastern end of the island, home to Mts. Lidgbird and Gower, is accessible only by guided hike to the top of the latter at 875m.  The summit is covered by a fascinating "mist forest" - stunted by the wind and draped in moss (including the world's largest).  Here there are two more endemic palm species - Hedyscepe canterburyana (Big Mountain Palm) and Lapidorrhachis mooreana (Little Mountain Palm), as well as tree ferns and the world's largest heath. The landscape feels like a movie set, and the restriction of its global range to these two tiny mountaintops of course makes it seem even more surreal and exceptional. 

Kentia palm forest at the base of Mt. Gower (my photo)

Kentia palm forest at the base of Mt. Gower (my photo)

Lepidorrhachis mooreana (Little Mountain Palm), Mt. Gower summit (my photo)

Lepidorrhachis mooreana (Little Mountain Palm), Mt. Gower summit (my photo)

Mist forest, Mt. Gower summit (my photo)

Mist forest, Mt. Gower summit (my photo)

I remember looking down at the landscape below, obsessed with the idea that the wild and otherworldly landscape around me was only a few kilometers away from the inhabited and more "believable" part of the island, but at the same time completely isolated by topography.  And the next day, standing at the other end of the island looking up at the mountains, I tried to visualize the environment at the top, so near and yet so far away. 

View from Mt. Gower summit (my photo)

View from Mt. Gower summit (my photo)

Lord Howe in general feels like a playful miniaturization or caricature of the real world.  It is tiny, diverse, easily explored by foot or bicycle, and suggestive of a place invented for a fantasy film.  Plus, the ubiquitous H. forstereana resembles a down-sized coconut palm, much of the forest is of low stature, the little lawns and cow pastures seem like something out of a children's book, and even the colorful boats floating in the harbor look like toys. 

And then, there's the fantastical-sounding (and controversial) proposal to evacuate the island's human and cattle populations while dropping poison over the entire island in order to end its infestation by alien rats.  There would certainly be dramatic consequences for the native wildlife as well.  Clearly it's a matter of weighing two undesirable options.

Darren

Mts. Gower and Lidgbird across the lagoon (my photo)

Mts. Gower and Lidgbird across the lagoon (my photo)

Pasture (my photo)

Pasture (my photo)

basin

  basin 
  oil on canvas l 44"x84" l february 2010  l  SOLD   
   (click image to return to gallery)   
 
  basin 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
   
  

This work represents an island (with ocean just beyond the cliff face in the center and the peaks to the right), focused on a large interior depression that takes up perhaps half of the island's area. 

I think of this basin as a volcanic crater, but although the center image is the same as the one representing the crater in Interior, I imagine this one as eroded and irregular.  Also unlike Interior, this crater is defined primarily by its physical form as opposed to its ecology. The crater floor would be much wetter than anywhere else on the island, supporting some unique plant life (like the cordyline, or ti, plants in the image), but not dramatically different from the rest of the island.

El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico (my photo)

El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico (my photo)

I imagine half of this island to be ringed by a series of peaks like those on the left - at their highest in the distance, but curving around behind the viewer as they step down to meet the cliffs on the left side.  I picture the coastline at the base of the peaks to rise less abruptly than those cliffs, instead backed by a narrow strip of lowland rainforest with steep slopes behind. 

The image on the left side of the work is the same as in Windward Coast, taken along the Na Pali Coast on Kauai, Hawaii; the central image is from nearby, in the Hanakapiai Valley, near the base of a frequently-visited waterfall. The forested peaks at right were photographed in El Yunque National Forest on Puerto Rico - the only rainforest in the US Forest Service.  The park comprises lowland rainforest as well as cloud forest and, at the highest elevations including the part pictured here, dwarf/elfin forest. 

As is typical for me in these situations, when I reached the highest point in the park I wished that I were instead on a much smaller island, with the ocean visible on all sides. The quintessential South Pacific atoll is what I had in mind, both on-site and when I set out to create Basin.  The work, of course, evolved into something other than a small island rising to a peak in the center, partly because an island largely taken up by a giant crater is more unusual.  (The ones I'm aware of are very low, desert islands with equally barren craters - an idea I'd also like to explore.) 

Darren

broken island

  broken island 
    oil on canvas l 36"x48" l july 2009  l  contact artist for price     
         
   (click image to return to gallery)   
 
  broken island 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

This next set of posts continues looking at focal points of islands - but not necessarily defined by vegetation. This particular composition is perhaps the one most similar to the painting I created several years ago shown in the About section. In both I've tried to capture the total experience of an island by exploring it simultaneously from different vantage points.

The island represented here I imagine to be shaped roughly like a teardrop. From left to right, I have shown it from above the rounded end, looking off into the distance across the water; standing just below the summit, at the head of a gorge; hovering above the water in front of the island; and (in the painting only) directly above the pointed end...a bird's-eye view.

The gorge - the island's focal point - tumbles steeply down toward the opposite shore of the island, and is walled in by rock faces (the wall on the left side is implied).  It's filled with scattered aloe plants, concentrated in the higher foreground portion, which are present but rare across the rest of the island (covered by scrubby forest). 

The photograph on the left-hand side of the composition was taken in Christoffel National Park on the semi-desert island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles (more on this island in a later post). The "gorge"-- in reality just a rocky slope--was photographed from the Montagne des Français near the northern tip of Madagascar and the town of Antsiranana (Diego Suarez).  The rest of the island - actually the Pain de Sucre (Sugarloaf) in the Bay of Diego Suarez, was shot from the same vantage point.

 

 

 

This part of Madagascar is characterized by dry forest, including several species of baobabs, aloes (Aloe suarezensis in the photo) and other succulents.  When hiking the Montagne des Français (site of an old French fort) I remember wishing that I was instead on the Pain de Sucre, visible in the distance - particularly enticing as a small island with a well-defined summit. 

Darren

Pain de Sucre in the Bay of Diego Suarez, Antsiranana, Madagascar (my photo)

Pain de Sucre in the Bay of Diego Suarez, Antsiranana, Madagascar (my photo)

Montagne des Français, with baobabs in the foreground, Antsiranana, Madagascar (my photo)

Montagne des Français, with baobabs in the foreground, Antsiranana, Madagascar (my photo)

apex

  apex 
  oil on canvas l 30"x84" l september 2009  l  SOLD  
   (click image to return to gallery)   
 
  apex 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

As in the last post, this work zooms in on an isolated cluster of plants that acts as a focal point for an entire desert island.  In this case, the island is relatively round in plan, rising steeply on all sides to a rounded but pronounced summit at the very center. The slopes are covered by low, leafless scrub, with the summit bare except for three or four giant Opuntia cacti (two or three meters tall).  There may be a few cacti scattered elsewhere on the island, but shorter and less conspicuous.

The left-most portion of the work shows the island as seen on approach, in early morning, with the summit ("apex") just visible.  A climb to the summit, reached at mid-day or late afternoon, brings the viewer to the group of cacti growing out of dark, hot, bare rock, as suggested in the middle of the work.  The sliver of blue and purple just to the right can represent either open sky beyond or water below, both emphasizing the height of the summit above the surrounding land and ocean.  The right-most section shows the slope down the other side of the island as viewed from the summit - at some distance but at much closer range than the other slope as seen from the water.  In this composition, then, as in some of the others, foreground, middle-ground and background are all represented but not from the same vantage point and not in succession from front to back.

Rabida Island, Galapagos, with saltwater lagoon, red sand beach and fur seals in the foreground. Some Opuntia cacti are visible climbing the hills just behind the lagoon. (my photo)All the images come from the Galapagos Islands - the left-hand slope from Floreana Island, the right-hand slope from Isabela Island (the same scene as in Windward Coast), and the cacti from Rabida Island.  The scene from Floreana actually inspired the entire composition.  I imagined this near-symmetrical peaked hill, in reality overlooking a freshwater flamingo lake rather than the ocean, as an island itself, with unique plant life at the very top. 

Opuntia echios, Santa Fe Island, Galapagos

Opuntia echios, Santa Fe Island, Galapagos

Rabida is a striking island of red earth and red sand, dotted with large Opuntia cacti.  The cacti in the composition were actually photographed on a rocky bluff overlooking the ocean...unfortunately I didn't have an opportunity to explore the interior of the island.

A fascinating diversity of Opuntia (Prickly Pear) cacti is found in the Galapagos - a unique species has evolved on nearly every island, and many of these reach tree-like proportions.  A forest of Opuntia echios on Santa Fe Island contains the world's tallest individuals of the genus, reaching 12m. 

Darren

rise

  rise 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

This and the next few posts will take a different angle on  the idea of isolated "oases."  The "greenery" in this work suggests no feeling of relief or protection - of course a great deal less than the beleaguered palms in Refuges.   The lechuguilla plants (Agave lechuguilla) in the foreground, as succulents, exist as much because of the desert's harsh environment as in spite of it.  Their hardiness, ironically, is additional evidence of their struggle against these conditions. 

I envision the entire landscape as a somewhat elliptical island; as in High Desert, which contains the same image of Death Valley, I've erased the distant mountains behind the slope in the background to suggest ocean beyond.  The agaves are located a short distance away from the windy summit of the island - a gentle "rise" rather than a sharp peak, situated close to one of the foci of the ellipse.  (It's occurring to me now that it might be interesting to draw an actual map to accompany some of these works, rather than just a vague description of what I'm imagining.)   The sliver of white suggests either the open sky seen from that vantage point, or light mist obscuring the land below. 

Despite being less than a foot high, the patch of agaves contrasts strikingly with the rest of the island, which I picture to contain no other vegetation.  (The mist may bring a tiny amount of moisture to the summit, supporting limited plant life.)  The plants, due to their singularity and location, become a powerful focal point for the entire island--drawing in and "controlling" the vastness of the landscape beyond.    

The lechuguillas were photographed in Big Bend National Park, Texas, on a mountain peak covered with a lot of bare rock and gravel but also some scrubby forest that I felt detracted from the experience of reaching the top.  The park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert--North America's largest desert--extending deep into Mexico from southern New Mexico and southwest Texas.  (Death Valley sits on the boundary between the Mojave and Great Basin deserts.)  While it lacks anything like the giant saguaros of the Sonoran Desert farther west, the Chihuahuan actually contains the continent's greatest diversity of cacti.  Other types of succulents, including yuccas, agaves, and even a bromeliad (normally associated with tropical rainforest canopies) are also plentiful in the park.  Below are photos of the Giant Dagger Yucca, Yucca carnerosana, some standing over three meters high.

Darren

Giant Dagger Yuccas, Dagger Flat, Big Bend National Park (my photos)

Giant Dagger Yuccas, Dagger Flat, Big Bend National Park (my photos)

single.19.jpg

cloud snag

island-ecotone-desert-cloud forest-tree fern-cacti-brazil-hawaii-kauai-buzios-oil painting-landscape-abstract-rainforest-peru-tambopata
      

      

This work would have fit better into one of my earlier posts, since it re-visits the idea of moisture gradients produced by conditions in the sky rather than under the ground.  The composition takes to the extreme the idea of ecological contrasts resulting from elevation change and rain shadow effects.  Here, a "mountain" less than 100m high has semi-desert at the base, rainforest at mid-elevation on the windward side, and wind-blown cloud forest at the summit.  The peak, barely large enough to occupy, somehow catches the clouds that roll by.  

Rainforest with giant Opuntia cactus, Buzios, Brazil (my photo)

Rainforest with giant Opuntia cactus, Buzios, Brazil (my photo)

The cactus-covered landscape was photographed near Buzios, Brazil, on the coast a few hours' drive north of Rio de Janeiro.  The natural vegetation of this region is considered rainforest, but the forest is less lush than expected - probably due to the sandy soil.  Huge cacti, at first-sight indistinguishable from other trees at ground-level, are common in the forest, and right along the coast the forest gives way to near-pure stands of it.  The photographs at the base of the composition were taken just behind the beach.

The rainforest at mid-right is in the Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone in southeastern Peru, in the southwestern corner of the Amazon Basin near the Andean foothills.  The photograph is from the environs of the Tambopata Research Center, a unique combination of ecotourist lodge and research station operated by Rainforest Expeditions and famous as the site of the world's largest macaw clay lick.  (It also happens to be where I spent a post-college internship creating a guidebook on local palm species.)  The scene at the top is the same as in Two-Sided Lake - from Kokee State Park on Kauai, Hawaii. 

Darren 

Rainforest along the Tambopata River, Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone, Peru (my photo)

Rainforest along the Tambopata River, Tambopata-Candamo Reserved Zone, Peru (my photo)

refuges

  refuges 
  oil on canvas l 32"x96" l february 2010  l  contact artist for price   
   (click image to return to gallery)   
 
  refuges 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

This work is based on the same oasis concept as in Crater Lake, but it collages multiple small oases, each a tiny sheltered world apart from the surrounding desert.  Together, I picture them forming a more gradual transition from protected to exposed, with the larger oases at the center petering out into smaller ones to the left and off the canvas to the right. 

The photos, once again from Erg Chebbi in Morocco, were taken during a sandstorm.  The mini-oases were isolated by dunes and nearly absent to begin with, so that rarely were more than a few, if any, palms (Phoenix dactylifera) visible at a time.   Although they could probably provide some degree of refuge from the wind and sand, they possessed an evocative quality of loneliness and vulnerability - so the title of the work is meant to highlight the need for shelter rather than any real ability to find it.

I used the fracturing technique to cluster the oases together (duplicating the largest one three times) while trying to preserve each one's sense of isolation and singularity.  The irregular shapes of the fragments suggest the forms of the surrounding dunes and, along with the ambiguous distinction between sand and sky, express the overall chaos of the experience.

Darren

crater lake

  guarded source 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
   
  

I created this photo-montage after reading about a date palm oasis in Libya situated inside an extinct volcanic cone.  I wasn't able to find a photograph of it at the time (maybe fortunately, since the one I saw recently didn't turn out to be very evocative), so I composed what I imagined - an eroded but still recognizable cone of dark lava rock rising starkly out of pinkish sand, guarding an equally anomalous forest of date palms crowding around a shallow pool. 

The fracturing of the cone is meant to provide simultaneous views of the outside, the inside, and the landscape beyond, revealing the full extent of the contrasts yet compressing them into a single experience.  The concept is similar to Interior although I see the atmosphere in this one as more ominous.  Not only do I imagine the cone itself as forbidding...I envision the oasis as initially inviting but ultimately unwelcoming, as if it feels trapped by the dark walls around it. I think the composition needs to be re-worked slightly--mainly, the central piece of the volcano in the foreground currently comes across too forcefully.

The volcanic cone, as in Interior, was photographed in the Valley of the Volcanoes in Peru, and the surrounding desert at Erg Chebbi in Morocco (as in Hollow).  The more distant section of the oasis was also shot in Morocco, overlooking the Draa Valley.  The palm is Phoenix dactylifera, the typical palm of most North African and Middle Eastern oases. The enlarged portion of the oasis was photographed in a semi-desert area of Rajasthan, India, with the date palm Phoenix sylvestris--the north Indian Natural grove of Phoenix canariensis, Canary Islandsequivalent of P. dactylifera (my mixing up the species was only a function of the images I had available)

Phoenix dactylifera, Draa Valley, Morocco (my photo)

Phoenix dactylifera, Draa Valley, Morocco (my photo)

Phoenix sylvestris, Rajasthan, India (my photo)

Phoenix sylvestris, Rajasthan, India (my photo)

Phoenix atlantica, Cape Verde Islands

Phoenix atlantica, Cape Verde Islands

Phoenix canariensis, Canary Islands (my photo)

Phoenix canariensis, Canary Islands (my photo)

Phoenix theophrastii at Vai, Crete

Phoenix theophrastii at Vai, Crete

To round out the discussion of desert date palms - other species include Phoenix canariensis of the Canary Islands (the most commonly-cultivated date palm in California and Mediterranean Europe and the most visually distinctive), Phoenix atlantica of the Cape Verde Islands, and Phoenix theophrastii of Turkey and Greece. 

This last species forms the only natural palm forests in Europe, both on the island of Crete--the largest, at Vai Beach, containing 5000 individuals.  It has been suggested that this forest was planted purposefully or accidentally centuries ago by visitors from the Arab world, although the existence of the same species today in Turkey and nowhere else would seem to refute this.  Not surprisingly the beach is a popular recreational spot, and visitors threatened the existence of the palms until the grove was recently declared a protected area.

Restricted natural distributions of plants - "islands" in their own sense - attract me for the same reasons that true islands do, on top of the reasons rarity tends to interest people in general.  The isolated quality of these distributions is of course compounded when they tend to occur in dense, widely-spaced clusters (as do most date palm species) and on actual islands.

Darren    

hollow

  hollow 
  oil on canvas l 32"x96" l january 2010  l  SOLD  
   (click image to return to gallery)   
 
  hollow 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

This work is like Interior in that it represents two contrasting environments defined by moisture levels - in this case, groundwater.  The palms are meant to be growing in a local depression (or "hollow") in the dunes, but I imagine that  this cluster of dunes towers high above those surrounding it.  The portion of sky in the upper right of the composition, digitally added in to mask dunes rolling into the distance (see the original photographs from Erg Chebbi near Merzouga, Morocco below), is meant to create the impression of the larger foreground dunes as isolated and remote from the already-remote dunescape beyond. 

Erg Chebbi is located near the Algerian border, and is actually one of Morocco's few large dune fields (or ergs) - most of the country's desert areas are flat and stony or rocky and mountainous.   These peach-colored dunes rise like an apparition 150m above the featureless surrounding desert of dark gravel. Traveling into the interior of the erg by camel, the size of the dunes (particularly monumental given the lack of scale comparisons) and the obscuring effects of a mild sandstorm erased any memory of the landscape beyond, creating a particularly otherwordly experience.  The simultaneous sense of being on a different planet, and knowing that this island of sand is nevertheless clearly delineated and relatively small, created the feeling of empowering isolation that I explore, in some form, in all these works. 

Erg Chebbi, Merzouga, Morocco (my photo)

Erg Chebbi, Merzouga, Morocco (my photo)

Erg Chebbi from a distance (my photo)

Erg Chebbi from a distance (my photo)

The "oasis," standing in here for what would normally be a cluster of date palms, is taken from Bahia Honda State Park on the island of the same name in the Florida Keys.  The park contains one of Florida's last remaining stands of these Silver Palms (Coccothrinax argentata), found only in the extreme southern part of the state and in the Bahamas.  The limited range of this species, and my experience of its habitat on a small island, inspired me to accentuate its isolation by stranding a few individuals in the middle of an empty sea of sand.

I imagine this work to represent concentric zones of increasing isolation.  The erg, surrounded by flat gravel desert not shown in the composition, envelops the high cluster of dunes in the foreground, which threatens to overwhelm the tiny oasis of palms at the very center.

Darren

Grove of Silver Palms, Bahia Honda, Florida Keys (my photo)

Grove of Silver Palms, Bahia Honda, Florida Keys (my photo)

interior

  interior 
  oil on canvas l 26"x66" l july 2009  l  SOLD  
   (click image to return to gallery)   
 
  interior 
   (click image to return to gallery)   
  

This was my first experiment with converting a photo-montage into oil paints.  It's meant to represent an island that is also a volcanic cone, fractured into three parts, desert-like on the outside and lush and green on the inside.  The crater glimpsed in the lefthand portion thus continues (and "widens") in the central portion, where the surrounding mist and sky are suggested at the top and left.   In the right-most portion, the crater has shifted off the canvas. 

The idea is that, from the outside of the cone, there's no hint of the dramatically different environment of the interior.  The inside, however, is a separate, sheltered world, with only the sky visible beyond.  I mentioned earlier my fascination with miniature volcanoes as recognizably "humanized" versions of typically much larger landforms. But, I'm also entranced by the experience of being inside little craters, because like islands they exclude perception of everything beyond. 

Ecologically, this scenario in a sense the inverse of Ngorongoro Crater (mentioned in the last post), but unlike the works I've talked about previously, this one isn't meant to represent a moisture gradient caused by elevation change.  I can't think of an actual weather pattern that would bring so much moisture to the crater while leaving the rim and outer slopes arid.  (The closest situation I'm aware of is The Quill on St. Eustatius in the Netherlands Antilles.  The crater of this volcanic cone is filled with near-rainforest vegetation, but there is also cloud forest on part of the rim and relatively wet forest at higher elevations on the outer slopes.)  I can imagine, though, that protection from the wind and sun would create slightly cooler, less dessicating conditions inside such a volcano.

Hanakapiai Valley, Kauai

Hanakapiai Valley, Kauai

Valley of the Volcanoes, Peru (my photo)

Valley of the Volcanoes, Peru (my photo)

Valley of the Volcanoes (my photo)

Valley of the Volcanoes (my photo)

The interior scene is taken from the Hanakapiai Valley along the Na Pali Coast on Kauai, Hawaii (the sheer valley wall visible in the background).  The rainforest has been largely taken over by non-native species, as is the case with almost all lowland Hawaiian forests.  However the native cordyline, or ti, plants in the lefthand portion of the image--not palms but related to them--still dominate. 

The volcano was photographed in the Valley of the Volcanoes, a remote area in the Andes about 10 hours' drive from Arequipa, Peru and home to the picturesque village of Andagua.  Scattered in-between two towering ranges of snowcapped mountains are about 80 extinct cinder cones.  Covered in scrub and columnar cacti, most are small enough to climb in much less than an hour.  The valley in general is fascinating botanically, geologically and culturally - in addition to the volcanoes there are gushing waterfalls, a diversity of eye-catching succulents, and fields terraced with volcanic stone.  It's among one of my favorite places, partly because I know of only one other non-Peruvian who has heard of or visited it.  

Darren

 

 

 

Valley of the Volcanoes (my photo)

Valley of the Volcanoes (my photo)

Valley of the Volcanoes (my photo)

Valley of the Volcanoes (my photo)