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Sunday, September 11, 2011

GRAND CANYON: AfterImage Series

This is the first of 25 or more weekly posts that will chronicle one of the most extraordinary opportunities of my life: spending 3 weeks living on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon as Artist in Residence, in January and February, 2011.

The blog series will unfold in something like real time--or rather the recreation of real time. It's a stab at capturing the inspiration process, rather than simply presenting inspiration's finished product. I'll begin with my arrival at the Canyon, and the ideas that flowed so fast I could barely make a cup of tea, because I had to keep rushing back to my notebook in the living room, which looked out onto the North Rim, to jot down ideas I'd had while waiting for the water to boil in the kitchen...I had no peace, and that was good.

The Artist in Resident's living room, above Verkamp's Visitor's Center. To the right is the view from the living room window.

As the series unfolds I'll chronicle these invasive, tea-interrupting ideas, and how they evolved from scribbles and sketches into finished artwork--or, I should say, are still evolving, as the work as a whole is still in progress. (Let's hope I finish by February, 2012, as I'd like to conclude the series more or less a year to the day I left the Canyon. It'll be a push, so if my friends wonder why I'm slow in returning emails, please know that I'm not lying on the sofa peeling grapes, but trying to turn these fragments into art...)

Most entries will be posted on Monday mornings--unless I'm traveling, and then it's anyone's guess.

For anyone interested in the South Rim AIR program, see their website:


I arrived at the apartment. And there was the Canyon in the windows. I wasn't ready to see it yet--I didn't feel up to it. I was tired and jet-lagged, already beginning to struggle with what I'd learn would be altitude sickness. I needed to be sharp--ultra-sharp, perception honed, mind's eye memory at the ready--to meet the moment head on, my first view of the Grand Canyon. Ready to make a fine memory. And instead my hair was dirty and I was tired and I had a pebble in my boot. So I turned around and didn't look right away.

That lasted about 30 guilty seconds. When I did look out the lavish windows, into the vast red expanse, I still wasn't on my game, but can anyone ever live up to the Grand Canyon? The first thing I noticed were the absences.

Journal entry: 26 January 2011

My first view of the Grand Canyon

 I saw what wasn’t there before I saw what was. The blank spaces, the deep blue shadows falling from the face of the North Rim—they leapt at me and claimed my sight.

 The majesty of distance; the rocky reds and golds; the ancient tendrils of earth shakily staking a spot in the sun for deep time: these things brought me to the edge of tears when I thought about them.

 But those negative spaces came before thought. The rivers of shadow flowing down the North Rim. Time manifested vertically, pivoting horizontally. The Canyon as sundial, its cast shadows marking a trail of time like the one labeled on the South Rim Trail, albeit in hours instead of eons.

 Alright: I guess I thought about the absences, too. But that came later. First came the lure of abstraction: the blank, blue, negative spaces, streaming like inky tributaries of the night sky—at 5 pm, in strong late sun, a once and future promise—down to the Colorado River. Repositories of the imagination. Where fiction grows and flourishes.

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