Sagebrush and Silence @ Montello

Silence and Sagebrush @ Montello

In addition to outreach I’m also a practicing artist. Over the past few years one of the things that has become increasingly vital to my practice are artist residencies.

Montello Foundation
I don’t see the desert as barren at all; I see it as full and ripe. It doesn’t need to be flattered with rain. It certainly needs rain, but it does with what it has, and creates amazing beauty.
— Joy Harjo

This last September I was invited to spend two weeks out in the Nevada desert making art in a cabin that is completely off the grid. No phone signal and no internet, just solar power and rainwater.

I’m incredibly grateful to the Montello Foundation and Stefan Hagen for those two transformative weeks of solitary silence living among the sagebrush and juniper of the great basin.

“Discounting the cry of the occasional bird, the wailing of a pack of coyotes, silence – a great spatial silence – is pure in the Basin and Range. It is a soundless immensity with mountains in it.”
-John Mcphee
Basin and Range, 1980

I’ve done a number of residencies and each one is unique. This one more so than most, and about as different as is possible from my last one in Shanghai.

The most exceptional and for me, valuable thing about this residency is its isolation. You’re a treacherous 4-mile drive (but very pleasant hike) from the nearest phone signal.

“There were no lies here. All fancies fled away. That’s what happened in all deserts. It was just you, and what you believed.”
Terry Pratchett

While here you consider carefully the resources you use that we often take for granted. The cabin operates off of solar power and uses a rainwater collection system, emphasizing how rare and precious water is in a desert.

“The desert wears… a veil of mystery. Motionless and silent it evokes in us an elusive hint of something unknown, unknowable, about to be revealed. Since the desert does not act it seems to be waiting — but waiting for what?”
-Edward Abbey

My first few days were defined by smoke from the tragic wildfires around Tahoe, underscoring the fragility of our environment.

I found that even after one day I began to adjust myself to the rhythm of this stark and beautiful area. The sunrise and sunset, walks in the cool of the morning, the sometimes-fierce afternoon and evening winds, and the startling array of stars at night.

There’s a beauty and subtlety to the landscape here, so much so that you begin to notice not just its openness and grand gestures but a multitude of small and wonderful things.

Utah Juniper-“I felt the kind of reverence I have felt before a Van Gogh. The tree was swirling yet still motion. Its massive roots curled around rocks. I could almost feel the slow, sweet movement of sap, the life force flowing up and down. The living wood beneath the ancient skin nourished twigs holding up clusters of scaly leaves that swayed in the wind.”
Kristen Rogers-Iversen
Interwoven, Junipers and the Web of Being, 2018
Plains prickly pear

This is a place that in its isolation and openness compels reflection. While I spent plenty of time painting and drawing, a lot of what I did was consider my own practice, the threads of which are already forming the beginnings of a new body of work.