Sunday, November 18, 2012

Idaho and the end of the summer.

Since returning to California at the end of August and resuming classes at the Academy, time has been passing in a blur of charcoal and paint. This semester has brought the expected amount of challenge, yet has also surprised me by the bounty of breakthroughs it's offered as well. 

But before I can go into that any further, I have to at least catch up through the end of summer. After spending a few weeks in the high country in Colorado, hiking Longs Peak and getting into tremendous cardio shape, I had the good fortune of getting to climb at the Monastery for a few days. The Monastery, an incredible crag near Estes Park, was bolted mostly by Tommy Caldwell, and the stiffness of the grades reflects their creators unbelievable strength. Up until this summer, I had only been strong enough to climb on the easier routes (which are still very hard for the grade!). It felt pretty exciting to finally get to try out some of the harder routes- or to be more precise, the easier of the harder routes- namely, Psychatomic, 12d, and The Quickening, 13c. I was able to send Psychatomic relatively quickly, but The Quickening still feels pretty far beyond my grasp. Maybe next summer... either way, Psychatomic is brilliant and it was a real joy to climb.

This is what happens when you try to climb Psychatomic three times on a hot day. 

Next stop after Colorado was Idaho, a state I had only driven through on my way to other places. I quickly developed a sincere love for the place, especially the desolate, remote area we camped and climbed at for several weeks- The Fins. 

Limestone! My favorite.
Obscure and relatively unknown, The Fins is a gorgeous limestone crag located in the absolute middle of nowhere. The only man made structure you can see from the area is an old nuclear test site, which I believe is now home to Idaho National Laboratories. The landscape is barren in the beautiful style of the Western plains- sagebrush, dried grass, big skies. Due to the excess of wildfires this summer, the sky was more often than not clouded by a thick layer of white smoke, which provided a nice cover from the sun, made for some stunning sunsets, tinted the moon orange every night, and made everything smell like a campfire. It gave the crag and the surrounding plains a rather lonesome and mysterious feeling, and often times the smoke looked more like fog. I sometimes got the impression that I was standing on a seaside cliff looking off into mist rather than on a dusty hillside in Idaho. On some days, the smoke was so thick that it completely impaired the vista, encapsulating us climbers in a cocooned world of white. It was eerily beautiful and memorable. 

Covered in smoke
Here's some thoughts I had while I was still there, back in September:

The hills here rise like small mountains
from the patchwork fields of verdant crops 
so out of place here in the dry expanse 
of scorched grass and sagebrush--
The arid, Western plains.

From this vantage, high in the hills,
the farmlands look like emeralds
cut square by a master jeweler
and I think--
this is what America means to so many.

But since this is the summer of wildfires
the sky hangs heavy with a haze so thick
it appears as mist,
as if I stood upon a seaside cliff
overlooking an ocean obscured by fog.

The thirsty hills,
dry and desolate and ready to burn
stand in the smoke with a lonesome air--
silent, still,
solitary-- I stand with them.

And the sky is like a fogged mirror
utterly bright and blank.
The black cliff birds dive into it 
and get swallowed by the air
disappearing in the white, opalescent haze.

The scenery, which I was so fond of, was equaled in quality and beauty by the climbing. Tall, gorgeous swathes of vertical or slightly overhanging limestone house some very engaging and enjoyable routes of my favorite style of climbing- technical moves on small crimps and pockets. 

Warming up on Yellow Man, 11a
Sending Pure Rock Fury, 13b

The mellow top section on Pure Rock Fury
The Fins still remains a relatively unknown crag, with most of the development having been done by local climbers. Traveling there with Jonathan meant that I got to witness a handful of new, impeccable lines go in. I also got to belay him on his first (lengthy) attempts on a few of the new routes, including Algorithm, 14d. Check out the video here: 

On our very last day, I was lucky enough to receive a bolting tutorial from Jonathan. It ended up being one of the manlier few hours of my life, due to the number of tools I got to use and the amount of hammering I did. I even got to use the power drill. 

Pretty serious.
The couple weeks I spent in Idaho were the perfect close to one of the best summers I've experienced thus far in my life. From climbing in France, dancing in the streets of Wyoming on Fourth of July, hiking in the alpine in Colorado, to climbing hard in Idaho, the summer was absolutely packed full of adventure, challenge, and growth. I got to spend most of my time outdoors in absolutely beautiful places... which prepared me to return to California and enter into another year of grad school, spending hour upon hour inside, huddled over drawings. While those experiences are certainly opposing, their juxtaposition offers me satisfaction and fulfillment on very different levels. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to pursue both aspects of my being so fully within the same year. 

Now, to return to the mounting pile of homework that stands between me and the end of the semester...

Life is great. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

First year of graduate school at the Academy of Art

As I head back to my my second year of graduate school at the Academy of Art, I figure I better make good on the promise I've been making to friends and family for the past year and post some of my school work for them to see.

A year ago at this time, I had just driven from Colorado to California, my Subaru packed to the gills, to live in a city I had visited just once or twice in a house with people I had never met. I had never taken an art class before, never lived anywhere except for Boulder, and never done so many other things I was about to do. The newness and change of it all was overwhelming- but so very exciting at the same time.

The first semester was a complete emotional roller-coaster as I adjusted to the demands of art school, slowly figuring out that I couldn't make every assignment perfect, that I could only do my best and try my hardest. Oftentimes, I felt like that wasn't enough, and I constantly compared myself and my work to that of my peers, many of which have been studying art devoutly since high school or younger. My pride and ego swung between feeling very affirmed and on the right track at times, then completely out of place and inferior at other times. I learned so much that semester, not only academically, but also personally. The biggest lesson that I took away was just to stay true to my own artistic impulse, to not question it, try to filter it or reshape it to fit what I think others are expecting or wanting. Anytime I strayed from this, my work suffered and came out tepid and lifeless. Whenever I followed my inner vision, the work stood on its own and spoke for itself.

Here are some photos from Semester 1, from my Chiaroscuro class and my Concept, Technique and Illustration class.
Charcoal on paper, Chiaroscuro class.
Drapery study for Chiaroscuro class.
Study of a plaster cast torso for Chiaroscuro class.
My teacher, Jun's, drawing. Charcoal on paper.
Still life study for Chiaroscuro class.
This is what the teacher's notes on chalkboards look like at art school. Chiaroscuro class- all about light and shadow.
Figure drawing in Chiaroscuro.
Jun's sketch of the model, which took under ten minutes.
One of Jun's paintings. The instructors at the Academy are all phenomenal artists.
Children's book illustration, "Night." For Concept, Technique and Illustration class.
Children's book illustration, "Day" For Concept, Technique and Illustration class.
In progress...
"Eclipse," for Concept, Technique and Illustration.
After a much needed month in the desert of Las Vegas over my winter break, I returned to California to take on my second semester. While it was still very challenging, the intense ups and downs of the previous semester had mostly mellowed out, and I got to spend more of that energy on practicing my skills and trying to improve. It became somewhat of an obsession, and many nights I found myself dreaming of drawing or painting, or walking through vast halls of art museums, looking at master paintings that don't exist in real life. During this semester I also started to notice a direct improvement in my art, and it became very evident that this pursuit of going to school was incredibly worthwhile and exactly where I needed to be. I stopped doubting whether or not I would ever achieve the level of mastery that I so badly desire; instead I just committed fully to the endless hours of work and practice that it will take me to reach that place. My doubt in myself was replaced with resolve. Now I feel like it's just a question of hard work, patience, diligence, discipline, and dedication. I have a lifetime of learning to do, but I'm excited to do it.

Here's some of my work from the second semester, from Sustained Figurative Concepts class and Head Drawing class.

Sustained Figurative Concepts Class, pastel.
Sustained Figurative Concepts Class, pastel.
My teacher, Bill Maughn's, drawing.
My teacher, Bill Maughn's, drawing.
Skull study for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.
Skull study for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.
Skull study for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.
Ears and eyes studies for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.

Nose and mouth studies for Head Drawing class, charcoal on paper.
In class oil study of a model. Head Drawing class.
Oil painting of my classmate for Head Drawing class.
Self portrait in progress. 

Self portrait, charcoal on paper. Head Drawing Class.
During last year, I also had the opportunity to show my work in several group shows at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco. Between the techniques I learned in class, the inspiration gained from my teachers and fellow students, and the exposure to the vibrant art scene here in the Bay Area, I had the most artistically stimulating year of my life so far.

"Eclipse" for Modern Eden Gallery's group show "Woodland"
"Thanatopsis" for Modern Eden Gallery's group show "Dark Art: A Tribute to Metal"
"Embryo," for Modern Eden Gallery's group show "Menagerie"
As my second year at school begins, I find myself incredibly motivated and aware of the extreme amount of work I have ahead of me on my path as an artist. I have so much to learn. 

To close, I'll leave you with a quote from Ira Glass which resounds heavily with this very novice artist. As always, thanks for reading.

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential. but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through."

Monday, September 3, 2012

Homage to one of my heroes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

This news is quite old by now, but nonetheless I wanted to say a big congratulations to Jonathan Siegrist for getting the second ascent of The Honeymoon is Over! He sent several weeks ago after a huge combined effort between him and his dad Bob, who both spent numerous days preparing for the event by hiking heavy loads up to Longs Peak, acclimatizing, sussing beta, and generally suffering in the alpine.

Jonathan, a tiny speck, working the route. I took this photo from Chasm View.
Chasm View.
As Jonathan wrote on his blog, "When I clipped the 3 bolt anchor I let out a cry of relief and excitement - repeating this route had been a dream of mine for 5 years. It was an emotional finish for me and it was a day that I will remember forever. So much effort, thought, planning, stress and excitement went into this route -- which made the send that much more satisfying."

It was incredibly inspiring for me to witness how much energy, effort, and emotion it took from both Jonathan and Bob in order for this route to be repeated. Witnessing such dedication and determination always lights a fire in me to apply the same try-hard mentality to my own life and goals. But in the meantime, I found that Jonathan working on the Honeymoon was a great excuse for me to get to spend some time up in the alpine, and I ended up hiking for hours upon hours in the thin, mountain air. 

Just breaching tree line, Longs in the distance.

Brave little alpine chipmunk. 
I also did my first ascent of the Cables Route, an easy free solo that leads to the summit of Longs Peak. 

The Cables Route claimed some flesh.
In many ways, the alpine reminds me of the desert. Stark, beautiful, merciless, and rugged, the alpine can go from being a perfectly safe, lovely, and sunny place to a dangerous and dark one, full of threats from thunderstorms, dehydration, altitude sickness, and a multitude of other harms. The weather changes in a flash, and even the most experienced alpinists sometimes find themselves in frightening positions. It commands such a deep respect from anyone who is at all observant, and it's power for destruction combines with its delicate beauty to create an awe inspiring energy and environment. 

Sunny one moment...
...lightning and thunder the next.
Only the toughest, hardiest little creatures survive up here. In this picture, one of my favorites- the ptarmigan- shows how effective its camouflage is.
After finishing up the Honeymoon, Jonathan drove west to Idaho, where I joined him for one last climbing trip before my summer of climbing and traveling came to an end. Photos coming soon...