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A Timeline Story of the Creation of Black Mesa


Mixed Media Collage in tribute to Georgia O'Keefe

 In October 2010, I signed up for a Plein-Air Painting course at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.  What I wanted to do was be in New Mexico, be in the land that Georgia O’Keefe painted, see the High Desert sky at night and overall just be surrounded by the expansive experience of the West. I had created art with paper out of my mind’s eye, but I had never painted with oils. My limited experience with plein-air creating consisted of several small paper landscapes I had created in my backyard or at the beach. I took a risk in going to this course. I thought my passion for the West and my repertoire in my field of art expression would stay the course as I ventured into a brand new realm of art.

 Michelle Chrisman was a fabulous teacher, being a plein air oil painter of the West in her own right. She took seasoned artists from all over the country into the desert and instructed them how to paint what was before them. I found myself surrounded by committed artists, those who knew the elements of landscape painting and had been immersed in oil painting. I was reduced into a humbling experience as I showed that I knew nothing about oil paints or drawing or landscape painting. What a fool I was to think that I had a right to be there amongst these artists!

 It was truly humbling to be so far from home with nothing but my turpentine, a few oil paints, a blank canvas and the whole horizon of New Mexico in front of me. What a fool I was. I cried a few tears and then I decided to enjoy myself. I was there mostly because I love the West. I was with a group of seasoned artists and I would learn from them. I was the novice and beginner and I turned my beginner eyes on them…those who had struggled with the medium. And they did not shun me. This was a week of learning like none before. I stood in the desert sun with the others and sometimes knew not what to do except sweat. I watched them position themselves with such purpose, then take the care to decide what to paint and then tend to the task over hours of the day as the sun crossed the sky. And there were so many interpretations of the land before us. Each attempted to express what was seen by them. The challenge of the brush was there along with a multitude of demands from the light, the speed of time, the trick of the eye and the fatigue of the body. It was hearty and robust like riding horseback through the desert (for me, without a saddle).

 When I left New Mexico, I knew without a doubt I was a novice. I did not know if I could ever paint with oils and I did not know where this journey would take me. My love for the desert took precedence though whenever I would begin to have a dialogue that noted my inadequacy and foolishness for thinking I could do such a course.

 It is only today, nine months later, that I see the journey in its entirety. The completion of this piece, Black Mesa, is only possible because of my participation in that plein-air painting class at Ghost Ranch where Michelle Chrisman taught me the basics and tolerated my newness and invoked a respect for the task of painting the desert landscape in plein-air.

 I laid down oils for quite awhile. They were unruly and messy and I couldn’t make them do what I wanted them to do. I took one class with a seasoned artist and he pointed the way but I couldn’t go there. And so I stepped away from it all for months. And then I was introduced to a book that captured the artwork of Georgia O’Keefe and the actual photographs of those places she painted. I studied that book and started to lay over top of her art pieces the knowledge Michelle taught us. And there it was. I saw it. I saw what Michelle was telling us and I saw how Georgia O’Keefe applied it to her work. And then I wanted to try it out. Apply the principles but do it with a medium I had expertise with…paper. I paint with paper. Not oils.

 So I set out to do five studies of O’Keefe’s Black Mesa. These studies involved finding papers that would align with the values of her paint. Since I was working with the papers I had in my supply, often I layered the papers to get the effect I wanted. Once I experimented enough with the potentials, I laid out the large piece and applied the principals as well as the potentials.

  All of the women who painted in the High Desert at Ghost Ranch while I watched and wrestled with myself, they were there with me as I worked this piece. I referenced them in so many different ways. Sometimes the thing I learned back then and that I most appreciate now is the willingness to wrestle in the moment as well as the willingness to walk right into the painting while placing the paint or the paper in a dramatic stroke of knowing. It is play at its best. One can always go over it. But this kind of expression evokes a playful spirit while the sun is up. Be in the moment. The sun will go down and tomorrow is another day.  So what do you see? Paint it.

 I have never worked as hard as this to replicate what has preceded me not only by Georgia but also by Michelle and by each woman that was in that painting class in New Mexico. Each of us is in this piece. I bow to each of you. Thank you for allowing me to witness your exchange with the High Desert. You were gracious with me as you taught me the way. Thank you. I can only hope that this piece bows to Georgia and her love of the desert and to each of you who love the desert.

 The desert is a mysterious place that calls to our soul to be more present amongst the throngs.

Carole Emerson


2nd Year


David Nutter, Cancer in Death Valley, August 2009

Help us celebrate by joining us for our August Exhibition, 2 Year Anniversary Artist Invitational, which will feature several artist friends of Painted Desert Gallery.  

Mediums include Painting, Collage, Photography, Drawing, Sculpture and Installation Art.


ARTISTS EXHIBITING: Heather Heilman Loercher, Claire Giblin, Dorothy Frey, Will Mowery,  Magdalen Mowery, Tom Toczek, Kedren Crosby, Dennis Martin, Monika Martin, Eric Tonzola, Katrina Funk, Jennifer Blaisdell, Eric Spohn, Amanda Ellinger, Anthony Granados, Matt Chapman, Ryan Toews, Christopher Moss, Toby Richards and Evan Stallone, Dave Nutter as well as Painted Desert Gallery’s  Carol Emerson, AJ Nutter and Rose Principe.

Introduction to Cancer in Death Valley

Runs August 10th to September 18th, 2009

When David Nutter flew out west in 2004, he planned to take photographs of Death Valley. It was on this trip that he became ill and upon his return to the East, he found out he had cancer.

During the next 9 mounths of his life, he underwent chemotherapy, printed his photographs, wrote his journal.

Read the journal entry as you look into the photograph. Be drawn into David’s passion for art and living.