lThis painting holds significant weight for me as an artist for many reasons. The first being that it was the first painting I sold through my website. A friend from Georgia bought it who has been a long time patron of my artwork! This was a huge milestone for me as a working artist. It was the moment that all my hard work and effort literally paid off! Second, the bones in this painting pay homage to one of the desert greats, Georgia O'Keefe. It wasn't until I started living in the desert that I understood her love of the landscape. For me, the desert washed my soul clean the way the desert sun bleaches and cleans the bones featured in this painting. Smooth, quiet, calm...it's hard to describe, but the desert became a place for me to heal from some of my past trauma as well as battle depression that I've been managing over the last few years. And sometimes I think about not sharing that part of myself with my followers, but I feel that mental health should be talked about openly because having community makes it easier to get help and support if you need it! For me, traveling, having new experiences, making art, chasing sunshine all help me see the beauty in life!
Third, this painting also highlights the general vibe of the area along with a major landmark near Moab, Utah. I am not a rock climber, but I have several friends who are and the rock tower seen in the background is a popular climbing tower in Castle Valley near Moab. The old pickup truck complete with rust and bone decor is a common site in the area.
On my last trip to Moab before I left Utah (hopefully not forever), I spent some time in Castle Valley hiking along the washes in the area. It's a really nice area if you're trying to get away from the crowds of Moab and Arches National Park. You still get epic views of the desert landscape as well as epic views of the Colorado River as it flows through the canyon without the traffic.
On trips prior, I had driven to this trailhead but never really hiked around the area. The last time I went, it was full blown winter and couldn't make it all the way to the trailhead. Originally, I had wanted to paint out here. Last summer I had plans of doing a lot of en plein air painting as I traveled, but after painting a few horrible landscapes, I abandoned that dream and decided to just enjoy the hiking and scenery and wait until I was back in the studio to create. It's also hard for me to find time to sit down and sketch while I'm out hiking or traveling. There's so much to see and do and I want to see and do it all so to carve out an hour or two to sit down and paint is a very hard thing for me to do. I'm definitely more of a studio artist. I'm learning how to slow down.
When I got out to the trailhead, I didn't really have an agenda. I remember being pretty exhausted that day and the wind was howling so I dropped my tailgate, ate a sandwich, then napped in the back of my truck for about an hour before heading out on a hike. I just strolled along some of the trails and took in the Juniper trees and cactus that had just started to bloom in the area. Occasionally, I saw a lizard or rabbit scurrying along. I didn't encounter anyone on my hike and that is one my favorite things about the desert. There is an endless expanse of land and sky so it makes being alone very easy. You don't have to try real hard to be a loner in the desert. You can literally just disappear into the landscape. I have a bad habit of wanting to spend time alone. It's peaceful and low stress. I grew up as an only child so I'm very good at entertaining myself.
I didn't hike too long on this hike because storm clouds started rolling in, maybe four miles round trip. The landscape, however, was legit just in that short walk. I did watch two climbers summit the tower while I was there.
When I got back to the trailhead, this old red truck was parked next to my Nissan Frontier. If there is one thing about Moab, it's that you can let your freak flag fly as high as you want. It's not uncommon to see people fueling up at the gas station or resupplying at the small grocery store who look like they've stepped out of Mad Max. It's also not uncommon to encounter people who make you wonder if they've spent a little too much time in the desert. Desert crazy is a thing. On the antenna of this truck were cow vertebrae stacked on top of one another. This wasn't the first truck I've seen with this decor in the desert. I've also seen a lot of cow skulls mounted to the front of trucks. Life goals.
I had a cow vertebrae in my truck that I had picked up on the second night I spent in Utah when I first moved there a year and a half prior. I had boondocked on an open mesa near Price, Utah and found the scattered bones of a dead cow while I was taking a walk. Also, not uncommon. Much of land in Utah is open range which means cattle are set loose during the warm months to feed on the open land. So bones are everywhere. A reminder of the harsh and unforgiving landscape.
I took my cow bone out of my truck and added it to others on the red truck's antenna before I left to find a place to camp for the night. I felt it was a good way to wrap up my journey in Utah. The bone I collected at the start of my journey remained in the desert in a type of real life mobile art installation.
I think about the desert often. I'm staring out my window right now at the snow falling in upstate New York and my mind drifts to the silent landscape, the warm breeze, the way the light dances along the cliffs and red rocks, the shade of the Juniper tree, the hyperawareness of water sources, and ability to disappear for days into the arid landscape. I look forward to experiencing it all again someday. Until then, I can relive those moments through my artwork. I use my art as a form of mediation that help transport me back to those precious moments when I feel alive on the road.