Cat. no. 83-24

Late Afternoon at LaCueva

Date: Oct-83
Item Type: Painting
Support: Canvas (Cotton Or Linen)
Owner: Albuquerque Museum
Dimensions: 60 X 96
Agent / Institution: Abq Museum

Late Afternoon at La Cueva. 60 x 96

Statement furnished to Albuquerque Museum, owner of the painting.
Early in August, 1983, I had decided to paint the Sandias at sundown
amid the rocks and live oaks south of La Cueva picnic area. Having
reached that conclusion, I decided to keep the record of my procedures
in such a way that I could give it to the Museum along with the
painting. Usually I carry with me a small unlined notebook in which I
make line drawings and refine the composition of the landscape before
I attempt an oil study. In this case, because I was working close to
home, it was convenient to take a large drawing pad. At first I had no
conception of the shape or size of the canvas, and I drew the first
page in such a manner that the scene would adjust to a square.
Immediately it was apparent that the canvas would be given over to the
elemental detail of the foothills with small space allotted at the top
and bottom for the spectacular ramparts of the mountain and the lush
foreground. So I changed my viewpoint by walking farther into the
ravine, and I made another drawing. The design seemed to improve, and
by the third drawing I became committed to a rectangular canvas with a
height to width ratio between 1:2 and 1:3. The field sketch led me to
choose a ratio of 5:8 or 1:1.62. These drawings are given to you still
glued together at the top from the pad. There are small lines and
numbers in the corner of the third drawing. I took a spirit level and
a protractor and measured the various angles of the mountains and
cliffs so that I could lay out a large canvas with accuracy. The ratio
of 5:8 permitted me to put the "Needle" five feet from the left of the
canvas on line forming a square so that the basic composition of the
painting was resolved simply and according to classical formula. By
the time I had finished the pencil drawings I had run out of daylight.
The next afternoon I set up my outdoor painting easel with a panel
roughly the same ratio of the proposed painting. I waited until an
hour before sunset to mix my colors and started an oil sketch. Because
of the failing light and limited time, all I attempted to do was
record color and value. There was not time to go back and correct
detail. Even so, having started with the color of the sky and then the
mountains next to the sky, by the time I came to the foreground the
setting sun had fallen behind some clouds and the color went out of
the scene, so I finished the panel off trying to remember the color of
the light in the foreground. I determined to come back the next day
and finish the foreground, but rainy weather prevented this for about
ten days. The next clear sunset brought me back out with my easel, and
I made an interesting discovery. I had always thought that the red
light of the setting sun would turn the green leaves brown. I found
the chlorophyll in leaves reflects bright green light, and the setting
sun reddens the twigs, dead leaves and the trunks of the trees so that
at a distance the green will appear brown, but in the foreground the
foliage was an emerald green in the shadow and almost jewel-light in
the light. Rather than attempt to harmonize these new discoveries in
the original field study, I set up a smaller panel to paint the
immediate foreground. By the time I was ready to go the light had
failed, so I left this panel set up. Fortunately, the next night was
clear, and I did a quick oil sketch that I have also given you. I then
stretched a 5' by 8' canvas, squared it off with pencil lines, set my
points, and with a straight edge drew in the various angles of the
Sandias. Using the two oil studies on my taboret as matching guides
for mixing the colors, I set to work, completing the canvas in early
October. During these operations I took some 35 mm color slides of the
mountains. These are available of you wish to see them. Either I
under-exposed the film or it got cooked in the glove compartment of
the car, but the photographs were not very helpful except for the
positioning of shadows on the mountain face. This was helpful when
referring to the mountain for detail during cloudy days. Generally I
find the photograph is excellent for rendering detail. It is extremely
poor for arranging composition, and it fails when representing lights
and darks and colors. What you have, therefore, is the finished work
and the preliminary work that I customarily perform when attempting
these large canvases. Usually the oil studies, once the large canvas
is completed, are sanded lightly so that they will receive more paint,
then I finish them off in detail. I chose not to finish the studies so
that you could see the way I work.

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