Spotlight: Canyon Run

Canyon Run, 2012

Back in 2012, my attention began to focus more on painting.  By mid-year I had a nice small collection of pieces going, mostly complete abstract pieces.  My process allowed for a lot of latitude and I was really starting to see that I had some talent for it.  As with any learning curve, the steady inclines are peppered with sudden creative bursts, and one such burst was what led to Canyon Run.

The idea for Canyon Run came to me intact; complete.  It was the first time this had happened, and at the time I was thinking about getting this idea--this piece--down on canvas.  I had a 24x36 that I wanted to work on, and so the first thought was to use it for this concept.  I had done some other pieces that large before; Pulse and Mindfully Blue are both that size.  But as I started really planning the doing of it, I realized that some aspects of it, most notably the herd of buffalo, would be all but lost at that size.  I had to go bigger.

Luckily, I remembered that we had some very large canvases in our stock, purchased in place from another artist who had left Hardy & Nance some months earlier.  Once I put that memory together with the idea for the painting it was set, it would be a 6' x 9' behemoth of a painting.  Now, how to do it...

I hadn't tackled anything remotely this large, and it remains my largest piece to date.  I found out very quickly that you don't just slap a piece that large together, you have to plan it carefully.  I have always required a fairly good area around a piece in which to work, I don't like to have things near me and I feel claustrophobic when I paint in a small area.  So I had to set up my work area first.  There is no easel large enough to hold a six foot painting, at least not that I own, and based on the way I wanted to do it I couldn't hang it, and so I decided to paint it laying on its back, set up amongst some chairs protected by plastic sheet.  It was time to cover.

Something that was not clear to me until I got into painting it was how to handle the top of the piece.  As it is 6 feet tall, I hadn't thought about all the mountainous detail close to the top, mainly how to reach it.  I eventually realized that I would have to paint it upside down!  Strangely enough, it seemed to work and even felt like a natural way to do it.  Anyway, what choice did I have?  The rest of the detail came in right-side-up, the last of which was the hunter on horseback.  This was the most nerve-wracking part of the entire process, and at one point I had decided that if this detail doesn't come off just right that the entire piece would have to be redone.  Lucky for me, after several attempts on paper, it happened just as I wanted it to.  The piece was finished.


"What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset." - Last Words of Crowfoot, Blackfoot Warrior and Orator, 1890


The vision had come to me at a time when ideas for paintings were flooding in all the time.  Mostly, it was "do a painting out of blue, with some red in it", or something like that.  Canyon Run came to me, not as an abstract idea, but in complete form.  Not as conceptual instructions but as a complete image, the closest thing to a 'vision' that I can think of.  That image gave me the message:  "Do it like this."  As a result, this painting became my first representational piece- a milestone after several pure abstracts up to that point.

What you see is my interpretation on canvas of that image.  It came as a result of my entering into a new phase and new medium, and along with that came new capabilities.  I have to believe that this vision had been waiting for years to come out; for just the right time to make itself known to me.  It could have come to me when I was 19, strolling through the Sid Richardson Museum in Fort Worth, but it did not.  It could have come to me when I first moved to Houston, but it did not.  It could have even come to me while I was discovering my real photographic talents covering some of Texas' historic sites, but again, it stayed quiet.  It was only when I was actually able to do something about it that it raised itself in my consciousness, grabbed me by the neck and said "let's go, now."  I am sincerely glad that it waited.

What do you see when you look at Canyon Run?  I have heard as many different perspectives as I have known people who have looked at it hanging on the wall.  For a time it moved around, but until recently it spent its time on the back wall of Studio G.  From that point many people saw it for the first time, and I walked up on more than a few of them, alone and staring, mouth gaping.  I rather like that.

What you get out of it will be different than what others do, or what I do, but one thing that I know is that this piece had to come out, and in my opinion it deserves the canvas that it covers.

Mark RodenComment