By Gabriel Roberts, Elsewhere Resident, June-July 2014
I was at the Revolution Brewery in Paonia, CO, having just played ultimate frisbee for the first time since college, enlivened by a delicious stout and the tremendous scene of community that is “The Rev” on a Wednesday night.
I was saying “yes” to everything—yes to a possible 2-week extension to my residency at Elsewhere Studios, yes to soccer, yes to frisbee, yes to new friends and summer plans, and when someone told me of an idea being kicked around for a carnival cutout for Colorado conservation, I said yes. I’d never done anything like it, but they seemed satisfied with my enthusiasm alone, and we agreed on a tentative plan for the project.
That Friday, at a party celebrating the summer on someone’s farm outside of town, by happenstance we connected again, and talked at length about the project and some of the North Fork’s environmental challenges.
The intention was to find expression for a simple message of common-sense conservation that most Coloradans could agree upon, something that could transcend controversial talking points like fracking or accusations of obstructionism: let’s be sensible, let’s protect the food and water resources on which we all rely. The cutout was to be a vehicle for this message, brightly-colored, approachable, simple, and fun.
I was making landscape paintings around Paonia. Before I became completely involved in the fun of the community, I went out every morning to paint, and quickly came to love and appreciate the landscape of the North Fork Valley: the big green mountains, the clear streams and rivers, the pink dirt, the brightly-colored wildflowers. I’d come from California—a place full of natural beauty—but there was something bigger, wilder and more open about Colorado, and I thought about the overcrowded campgrounds and weekend traffic I’d come to associate with camping and trekking, and I was happy to have finally found my way East to the other “West”.
With a few days to go in my magical six weeks at Elsewhere Studios, I began building the cutout, and having no design to follow, I came up with one of my own, one that would allow for relatively easy transport and setup of the cutout. Someone suggested that the board be hinged down the middle, and instead of messing with an attached stand (that would also need to fold), I decided on a pair of free-standing slotted stands into which the open cutout would slide. In the interest of keeping the size manageable, the sign itself is less than life-sized, so posers’ feet extend below its bottom edge, but if the photographer aligns the bottom edge of the viewfinder with the bottom of the sign, the image fills the frame, and the figures appear big-headed and small-bodied in what is hopefully an amusing, if not charming, fashion.
The painting itself is based on Grant Wood’s iconic “American Gothic” painting, an image so familiar as to hopefully add an easy bit of connection; surely most folks are far more responsive to images they recognize. I had a blast painting the rather goofy figures and simplified Colorado landscape—I was able to take the shapes from a painting I made of Mt. Lamborn on my very first morning out—and I thought I really ought to spend more time working with big brushes on simple shapes, a welcome break from detailed landscape painting.
The final product, I hope, is something unique and striking with its bright colors and classic headholes. Hopefully people will feel enticed to poke their heads through and smile, will consider and remember the message that if we care about healthy food and good local drink we need to also care about issues like energy development, and where and how oil and gas drilling and fracking occur. They can take a funny photo and make a statement that all Coloradans with a bit of common sense can agree upon.