Tag Archives: Art

Blooming Desert Landscape Inspiration

The Coachella Valley has seen its share of rainfall since the beginning of the year. Yet, for all these gray rain clouds shrouding the desert, there is a sliver lining. Bright blue skies returned and the warm midday sunshine woke up millions of sleeping wildflowers, creating a breathtaking display of colors and perfumes. Hikers along the many trails in this usually hot and dusty area, busy taking in the spectacle, soon forget the effort required to navigate steep inclines and rocky paths, awed by the impressive heartiness of nature. Photographers can’t get enough; thanks to digital photography and endless storage, they can let loose their shutter-happy fingers. Not so for the painter working with a single canvas, looking attentively at the scene in front of him, carefully mixing oil colors, and patiently capturing the landscape’s details and feelings, one stroke of the brush at a time.

On a recent hike at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, on top of the hill a little past Simone Pond at McCallum Grove, from a distance, I spotted someone facing what looked like an easel, standing under a silvery umbrella. We approached the artist almost on tiptoes (that’s what it felt like), trying not to disturb the moment, watching as he observed the scenery, twirled his brush on the palette in a little patch of coloured oil, applied the paint to the canvas with a few deliberate strokes, and stared in the distance, comparing the image developing on the canvas and in his mind’s eye with reality. He would repeat this creative cycle hundreds, maybe even thousands of times, over the next couple of hours.

I felt a little shy, almost guilty, for stealing a glance at someone’s personal work. That feeling quickly gave way to curiosity, and I peeked at the canvas where a snowcapped Mt. San Gorgonio (Old Greyback) already dominated the developing image of surrounding canyons and crests, green creosote bushes, yellow wildflowers, and sandy ribbons. Daring to disrupt the artist, I introduced myself and asked if I could photograph him in action, which he agreed to.

 

His name is Henry Buerckholtz, a New York City painter with an impressive portfolio of landscapes, still lifes and figures (I checked his website). We discussed his art, his techniques, his work. Henry explained that the first part of this project was to position the scenery’s main features. Next would come the application of colors and details.

Discovering a mutual appreciation for nature’s beauty, and the gift of seeing when we truly take time to look around us, are what I enjoyed most of our brief conversation. These are not unique to painters or photographers.

Conscious that we had invited ourselves in Henry’s creative space, we bid him farewell and resumed our hike on Moon Country Trail up the canyon, surrounded by this silence and never-ending natural beauty.

DSC_2947 (1)

On our way back, from way down in the wash, we could see Henry at the top of the hill, still in the shadow of his umbrella, applying the finishing touches to his painting. Although I have never painted, I have spent long contemplative moments simply letting the vastness and beauty of the surrounding nature wrap around me. I can appreciate the special enchanting bond that develops between artist and nature. It’s good for the soul.

Desert Haikus

Brush canvas and oils
Capture nature’s bright colors
Brought by winter’s storms

Yellow wildflowers
Snowcapped mountains and blue skies
Let your soul wander

On desert silence
Echoes of footsteps and breaths
Canyon’s only sounds

 

 

Makawao, the “Old West” of Maui

Maui (1153 of 2119)
Looking down Baldwinn Ave in Makawao, on Maui, HI

This feels like an old Western movie town,” is exactly what I said staring down Olinda Road. You could almost imagine days gone by, with red dirt streets, seeing a stagecoach rolling past horses tied to the sidewalk rails, and cowboys drinking whisky in the saloon. I knew it! That’s exactly how one travel website describes it: “Makawao is famous for its Hawaiian cowboys, or paniolo. Since the late 19th century, horseback-riding paniolo have wrangled cattle in Maui’s wide-open upland fields.” An eclectic, charming, colourful—if memory serves me right, every storefront was of a different colour—and welcoming town going about its business in the midday shadows of Haleakalā.

Maui (1158 of 2119)
Looking up Baldwin Ave and Olinda Rd toward the cloud-shrouded peak of Haleakalā.

Makawao is also renowned for its thriving art community, as evidenced by the many  galleries lining the streets. We were drawn in by Hot Island Glass, with its wide-open doors through which we could see a number of art pieces on display and curious would-be-customers listening attentively to explanations about this timeless art form. Artist and glassblower Christopher  Richards was busy heating, spinning, forming with the gentle touch of a mother with a newborn baby, putting the finishing touches to a beautiful translucent multicolored jellyfish suspended in crystal-clear glass. Captivating!

At the Crossroads gallery, I met Chicago painter Mort Luby, a former publisher and AP journalist who paints with oil, and watercolours, which he proudly exhibited as the artist-in-residence on the day we visited. We chatted about art, inspiration, the difference between Chicago and Maui winters, and Mort explained some of the challenges of watercolours versus oils.

Maui (1150 of 2119)
Oil and watercolour painter, Mort Luby, at the Crossroads Gallery in Makawao (Maui).

Nestled between the many shops and art galleries are the restaurants of Makawao. We opted for the “new kid on the block” for lunch: Habibi (open for only its 5th day on our visit), the Middle Eastern cuisine creation of Michael Worrell and Lindsay Hogan. For the uninitiated, reading the menu can be a little intimidating at first with tabouli, fatoush, zaater, sambousik, shawarma, falafel, al hadiya, al souq, tahini and loukoumades. But we quickly made sense of it all with Deni’s help. Our meal overwhelmed (in a good way) our taste buds, exploding with flavours, and satisfied our appetite. Inspired by mouthwatering flavours, spices, recipes and ambiance, Habibi is its very own art gallery of the culinary type. I highly recommend stopping there next time you’re up-country, in Makawao.

Haleakalā Frozen in Time

IMG_0321

I met Hiu Lai Chong at the top of Haleakalā crater, on a crisp and clear February morning. I told the story of our encounter in an earlier post. Inspired and awed (I imagine, as I was) by the volcanic landscape, endless horizon, colours, sharp edges, puffy white clouds, contrasts, and the sheer surrounding beauty, she was painting the scene. Over the course of several hours, the crater was frozen in time on Hiu Lai’s canvas. Visible on the horizon are the cloud-shrouded tops of the Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes, on Hawaii’s Big Island. A surreal landscape…

Thanks, Hiu Lai, for sending me the picture of your finished painting. I wish you continued success in your art. Mahalo! Aloha!

dsc_4165
Maryland oil painter, Hiu Lai Chong, paints the Haleakalā Crater in Maui, HI

Painting Haleakalā Crater

A visit to the summit of Haleakalā Crater is bound to create lifelong memories, and I’m not even talking about the drive. Once I found my mountain legs, which took a few  minutes after getting out of the car at the Visitors Centre (and later at the summit), I needed to find my mountain lungs. Trekking at 10,000 ft altitude takes a little getting used to.

No matter the viewpoint, every look is as grandiose and breathtaking—I did catch my breath eventually—as the previous. The crater’s rocky rim with its jagged edges, like a giant mixing bowl, runs down to the centre where a number of reddish chimneys (volcanic cones) are visible among what looks like endless rock slides. Clouds file in from Pai’a direction and others spill over the southern rim, like fingers of a hand holding on for dear life to the edge of the crater. Everything has a lunar landscape feel to it, with much brighter colours.

Reluctantly, and after what seems much too soon, we begin the 8,000 ft descent down Maui County Hwy 378 with its 30 hairpin switchback curves, when a small sign that reads Kalahaku Overlook draws our attention. Just one more look… Along the eastern edge of the crater, we’re treated to more breathtaking views and a new sightline of the reddish chimneys. Sheltered by the rocky wall above us, the wind has stopped where we stand. We’re alone. We swear we could hear a pin drop on the crater floor; all is perfectly quiet, magical. Everything stands still save for the clouds sliding into and across the crater. We could stay here for an eternity—there’s a certain calm, zen, all around us, peace, feels so good—but I don’t want to drive down in the dark…

But we weren’t alone. A young lady artist was busy mixing oil colours and applying them to her canvas, the spirit and life of the crater appearing with every stroke of her brush. Her face is well protected from the hot sun by the shade of her wide-brimmed hat, and covered with a thick white layer of sunscreen. She smiles at my surprise, realizing that we were not alone. I ask permission to photograph her, all too aware that I am disturbing her concentration and inspiration. She explains the painting in progress briefly and returns to her work. The name on the card she graciously offered is Hiu Lai Chong, from Maryland, here for the Maui Plein Air Painting Show.

dsc_4137
Haleakala Crater viewed from Kalahaku Overlook, Maui, HI

Haleakala Haikus

High above the clouds
Peace, awe, and serenity
Cool wind and thin air

Awe of destruction
Lava flowed 200 years hence
Pele rests in peace

High in the blue sky
Enchantment, dreams come easy
My feet on the ground

The fright of the climb
The reward awaits the brave
Sights like no others