The View from the Tea House on opposite side of Lake. Looking at Graves home and studio.
An Artist Residency
I’m just back from the time of my life (or one of the absolute top ten); an artist residency with the Morris Graves Foundation. It entailed two weeks of uninhibited access to Morris Graves’s studio, his home, and the 167 acres of primordial forest on his ‘Lake’ property. It was complete with panoramic vistas of the Pacific and the drive in through California’s famous beautiful rolling green hills sprinkled with happy bovine. In short, it was heaven.
Robert and Desiree Yarber who own and manage the Foundation treated me like an esteemed sage/ seer, a position that artists have held in bygone societies. One that is rarely experienced by artists in this culture.
Robert Yarber, as a young man in his twenties, found his life path unfolding when hitchhiking on US 101. Morris Graves gave him a ride. With no agenda, Robert was taken to Morris’s house. An incredible architectural beauty (designed by Seattle architect, Ibsen Nelsen) sitting practically at water level on a lake surrounded by pristine, untouched forest. For the next thirty years, Robert was Morris’s companion and helper. Robert built many of the additional buildings. He cleared the paths and maintained the property. In essence, as Morris himself pointed out, Robert gave Morris Graves more time to concentrate on his art. They led a life woven with the spiritual, Buddhist philosophies, art, and nature. The relationship seems very much like one of guru – disciple, with Morris Graves as the teacher, and Robert as Morris’s disciple.
When Morris passed in 2011, he left the property and all to Robert. Now, Robert is the guide/ the teacher, in that he supports the artists that are selected for the residency by giving them everything that he can during their stays to produce great art.
Primordial Forest © Hart James 2015
Robert and Desiree minimized their social contact with me, respecting my time and privacy to create. They checked in daily, bringing the most delicious meals and always asking about my comfort and needs. Did I have all my art supplies? Had I run out of something? Did I still have food for the other meals of the day (Robert and Desiree brought one meal. I was responsible for any other food consumption needs.)?
On the third evening Desiree offered that Robert would take me across the lake in the boat the next day. This would shorten my trek with huge palette, bag of oils and canvas. It would also give me the dock as a flat surface on which to work.
The next day Robert came and boated me across in the accompaniment of their beautiful little black dog. The dog, Annie, had the graceful feet and nose of a deer and the bushy hair and mane of a lion and the intelligence of an obedient three year old human.
I immediately left the dock and moved into the woods to paint the trees with my eight by four foot roll of canvas paper. There I was again on my knees reaching out as far as I could on my canvas-paper with large sweeps; running around to the other side of the paper to be sure to work on all sides; reaching; crawling; jumping up and down; craning my neck up to view the trees that I was painting; fighting mosquitoes; dealing with the incline of the paper’s surface going down away from me as opposed to the usual slope of an easel towards the artist. My style of plein air painting was/ is a full body work out. After getting the image that I had chosen down with charcoal and my oils, I gave up and went to the dock. At least there it was a flat surface.
Robert returned after the allotted three hours. We quickly realized that my eight foot oil painting was not going to fit in the aluminum row boat. I had seen Robert and his young helper using the dock as a raft when they cleaned the lake out; removing two invasive species, parrot feather and sponge weed. It intrigued me. This was my opportunity! A lifelong dream of being on a raft like Tom Sawyer! I suggested the dock. Robert tied the row boat behind the raft, put sweet Annie in it, and we proceeded to row the dock across the lake. My two paddles for each of Robert’s experienced one paddle. No matter. I was gleeful and declared Annie to be Becky in our adventure!
Back at the studio I managed to get the canvas paper on the long expanse of wall opposite the wall of windows overlooking the lake. This wall had an extra layer of dry wall specifically designated for pinning art work. How I managed to get it on the wall I don’t know. Pure exhilarated energy I guess. I worked on the piece into the dark hours. The next day, I worked another eleven hours on the piece. Never had I had the opportunity to work on anything of this size. There were moments of feeling overwhelmed. ‘How will I ever finish this when there is so much area to cover?’ Determination, perseverance, and creative energy won out. I learned that on that marvelous oil paint paper I could scrape my palette knife over it, applying colors in glazes, not wasting any oil paint in the process. I loved the effect. The charcoal, one of my favorite tools, would maintain itself under the applications of oil. I tackled the trees with the same methods that I would have used with pastels. Giving them volume and form with horizontal strokes of varying colors. It worked beautifully. The entire process/experience of this painting I loved. It took me back to that child that I strive for in my work; that feeling of connection with nature, with the earth; that sense of being able to do anything that I set my mind to; the feeling of youthful adventure.