Art and landscape – a short trip to the American North West

This morning before leaving home for my studio, I had another quick look at the map of the United States of America. I looked at the state of Washington in the far North West and then across and down just a little bit to the state of Oregon. It looked just a short distance on the map until you glance at how much more …much, much, much more of the USA there is. The journey we made from Seattle to the small town of Joseph in Oregon seemed long and the landscape amazingly varied and huge and yet the map says there is so much more. It really is a very big country.

In reality of course we caught just a tiny glimpse of its beauty and grandeur but it has quite taken me aback. I wonder now why it has taken me 56 years to get to see some of this amazing country. Probably something to do with being an artist and always being skint I guess. Strange then that art was the reason Nita and I were over exploring this stunning landscape but very exciting and rewarding.

art trip to Oregon

Wild flowers at Buckhorn, Hells Canyon, Oregon

As you already know, I am taking part in a collaborative art and science project with a small research team working at Microsoft in Seattle. The piece of work we are creating will combine 2 dimensional visual arts with an audio system that delivers different levels of audio / sound interpretation depending on the proximity of the viewer to the artwork. The purpose of the two week long trip was two fold. Firstly, we went to meet up with the team I’ll be working with. We needed to fix the basics for the work and to start planning how the audio and technological side of this piece might work. In short, we had two full meetings at one of the huge Microsoft buildings just outside of Seattle and two more informal meetings in restaurants in the city.

Art trip to Oregon

In the Hells Canyon area of Oregon

The second part of the trip, lasting for 11 days, saw us driving down to the small town of Joseph in Oregon where a week long artist’s residency had been arranged for me at the Josephy Center of Arts and Culture. The main emphasis of this part of the trip was for me to explore the very varied and rich landscape of this part of Oregon and to record as much information as possible about it in order for me to create three large (8’ x 4’) pastel drawings on my return to Scotland. We also needed to make a large number of sound recordings while out in the landscape in order to support the audio side of the artwork. We made the journey with film maker and photographers, Daniel Thornton and Cindy Apple, Dan who is the lead audio artist for the project and Cindy who was making a photographic / film record of the trip and work.

As I say, the landscape in this region of Oregon is incredibly varied and has three main areas. The small town of Joseph sits at a little over 4000 ft and has the huge 10,000 ft peaks of the Wallowa Mountains rising immediately behind it. In the opposite direction lie two very different regions, a huge area of high prairie and an even larger area of deep canyons known as the Hell’s Canyon area. All three of these very distinct geological regions are stunningly beautiful and are very individual. We needed to visit all three areas on our arrival and with time so short, I had to make a decision as to which area I would base my drawings on. The mountains and prairie were amazing but I decided that I’d work on the canyon area ….it is so different from the landscape I’m used to.

Art trip to Oregon

Nita and Kendrick, Hells Canyon region, Oregon

We were very lucky to be guided on three occasions by a local botanist and wildlife photographer called Kendrick Moholt and he took us to some amazing locations within the complex region of canyons. On the Monday we drove to Buckhorn, a view point over looking one of the huge deep canyons. When we arrived everywhere was in cloud (we were at around 5000ft) but as we waited in this high and quiet place, gradually the cloud started to break up and lift and the scale and depth of the canyon became evident. It was quite a breathtaking scene. The following day saw us way down in the canyon driving along a dirt road to reach a magnificent viewpoint where I spent several hours drawing. The canyon at this point dropped steeply down to the river but also climbed high above. Finally Kendrick took us to the farm of a friend of his, situated right in the base of the canyon next to the river. It was an impressive situation and once again I was able to spend quite a while drawing and recording. The final large works will I think be based on these three locations and I am hoping that the sound recordings we made will convey the different positions within the canyon.

Art trip to Oregon

The Columbia River Gorge

We got back to Scotland yesterday morning and this is the first day back in my studio. I’m planning to start work on some preliminary studies in the next day or so and will also be starting work on sorting through the numerous sound recordings we made.

It was a really amazing trip and the people we met were so friendly and helpful. There is a huge amount of work to be done for this project over the next four months but it is very exciting. When all is complete we’ll be exhibiting it as part of the big “9e2”project in Seattle in late October. After that, we are hoping that the work can be shown in other locations and with a bit of luck, brought over to Scotland…..hopefully to be exhibited alongside a large Scottish audio / drawing work that I’m planning. As they say ….watch this space!

Finally, my thanks must go out to Dan who has done so much to put this project into place. …. I look forward to working with you and the others on the project over the next few months or so.

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