As winter’s snows weep off the landscape, I itch to get out of the studio and into the exploding array of life. I’ve painted about a dozen new works in the residency’s first snow bound weeks, using material I’ve collected over many years of tramping around the state. I’m eager to get back out there.
As this year’s artist in residence, I’d like to share with you my thoughts about it.
I plan to emphasize two themes from my own life in my residency. I’m writing two blogs about this, one for each theme. One theme is to showcase the diversity of Idaho’s landscape. We live in a big state with numerous contrasts, hidden treasures, and grand statements. I’m going to try to find and paint those contrasts. I’ll write about that in my next blog.
I also plan to include rural Idaho in my residency. Rural Idaho plays a role in efforts to conserve areas of the state. It is part of the landscape and often must adjust to conservation. Because of the importance of rural Idaho, I will include rural paintings with an emphasis on my odd interest in discarded artifacts. Perhaps as I age I relate too much to such images!
I plan to extend showcasing my work by setting up a tour so that some rural towns can share in my efforts. This tour will compliment the big bash showing in Boise at the Riverside Hotel in November that I hope you’ll consider attending.
Why rural Idaho?
I’ve had a country mouse/city mouse tug of war all my life. I grew up on a dairy farm in Illinois. I had 105 acres in which to roam and explore and daydream. I mostly had it to myself. I learned to be comfortable alone in big spaces. I did not learn to be romantic about country life. Though I had an idyllic boy’s life there, I saw how hard my tenant farmer father worked. Sixteen years without a vacation because those cows needed milking twice every day. That 105 acres produced everything the cows ate or needed. It was relentless work.
I lived in cities of various sizes after leaving that farm. From a small college town in Iowa to New York City, I thrived among the stimulation of smart, creative people who broadened my perspective. I discovered the arts and thus my life’s eventual work. As the arts reside most vigorously in cities, I became a city mouse, but I never lost the influence of beginning as a country mouse.
Though I can never know with certainty, I think my rural boyhood molded me into a dreamer. I fantasized constantly while playing in the fields, talking to the cows, and running around exploring every corner of the place.
I also learned how fragile it all was. The person who legally controlled the farm decided to get rid of it, selling it and my father’s dream. That land now supports over 200 over-sized homes in a bulbous suburb of Chicago, my childhood erased, every square inch of that 105 acres unrecognizable.
I know now that the farm of my youth was little different from that suburb. Each is an expression of human imposition on an environment of far more intricate complexity than the mono crops and tame animals my father nurtured or the grass and alien trees of the suburb. So little of the Midwest resembles its post Ice Age wildness that we who grew up there had no understanding of “unspoiled wilderness”. For young me, our farm was nature. Our farm, however, was only the Cliff Notes of nature as written by people.
When I moved west in the 70’s, I discovered the original edition of Nature with its thousands of pages. Millions of acres of “good for nothing” land — too dry, too steep, too deep, too ugly for farming or suburbs — promised a lifetime of roaming and discovery. However, just as I discovered the fragile existence of my boyhood farm, I began to discover that even these endless miles of open spaces in the west were just as fragile, vulnerable to humanity’s voracious appetites and consequential presence.
Vertical slopes and a lack of water meant much of the western landscape would remain immune to agriculture and cities. We westerners (I now include myself, having turned in my Midwest passport) do have opportunities to experience environments little changed by human intervention. Yet even in these vast lands, we humans find ways to simplify and fragment their wholeness. We selectively favor certain wild animals for our own use by eliminating their predators and we insert docile hybrids across the land. We substitute sophisticated ecosystems for mono culture crops of timber, corn, alfalfa and
potatoes. We impact water systems with the consequences of mining, fertilizers, chemicals and wastes.
Globally, all of us together, just being modern humans, saturate the atmosphere with carbon and change the planet’s climate, thus endangering even the most remote parts of Earth.
I sympathize with rural Idaho, rural America, rural anywhere. It’s where I came from. We must eat and it’s the rural people who feed us. That’s why I want to include rural images in my residency because rural Idaho is part of the solution to Idaho’s, and the world’s, mounting deterioration of natural systems.
I originated on a farm and I’ve lived in cities. Both contribute their share of impact on Nature, both bear responsibility to alter their behaviors. Conservation reveals we have a human problem that we all must confront.
I don’t see conservation as rural vs urban. We’re going to need all the mice working together.