Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Bruce Docker: Utah Desert


I love the desert, but it took some time to develop that sentiment. Only after spending most of my army service in remote sandy areas such as this one, have I learned to accept and eventually like it -- the hard way. Every single tree, every slight variation in the terrain can emancipate from the harsh and relentless monotony of the desert, if only for a few minutes, and I immediately recognized both in this painting, in a nostalgic reminiscence. The weather is the other scourge of this wasteland; penetratingly cold at night and blazing hot during the day, it casts its dwellers from one extreme to another without mercy. The wind fills the eyes with sand. Really, the desert does everything it can to make one hate it, yet one eventually falls prey to its bleak magnitude: it's a mystery. Some of that mystery is caught -- and unraveled -- in this piece.

There is the blue turning white sky, scorched by the invisible sun, a purple, yet paradoxically realistic, as colors indeed mutate in such atmosphere, hill in the distance, and the ground, illustrated by variations of yellow and brown. The green waving tree, which appears to leave a part of itself floating in the air, before consuming it by the crown, is another characteristic touch. The sturdier, flattened tree in the distance, the unclear perspective, folded flat by the light -- these are all stereotypes, which, however, doesn't make them less authentic. I think that the artist demonstrates a deep understanding of the subject by including all of them in this painting, in a crowded, but effective rendering of desert.

So what, and where is the mystery? Well, if you have been reading closely, you must have noticed the "monotony" mentioned in the first paragraph, followed by a list of colors mentioned in the second. There is an obvious incongruity, but there is also a solution. All of these colors indeed appear in the desert, but usually in a much more subdued and modest form, being covered by a layer of sand. The artist intensifies the colors -- removes the sand in what may seem like a replication of a restoration process in art -- and presents us with a cleaner, brighter version. What happens in reality, however, is that a person needs to perform a similar process by themselves, without the aid of a brush. This is a very energy consuming process, which obviously gets abandoned very quickly. Thus the surroundings appear distorted and monotonous from under the patina of sand, while in fact there is a colorful life going on right beneath it. Eventually, though, it beams through the grainy layer -- and works the magic.

The desert is always in a state of transition, its main component, the sand, being highly mobile. It is always moving, but somehow stays the same... before I repeat myself again, I will only say that this understated mobility is a difficult quality to capture in a painting, but that Bruce managed to inject it into his. It is the general atmosphere more than anything else, the air and the light -- the elusive, indefinable things that make this piece effective. The colors work together to convey that atmosphere, but, eventually, a part of it evades clear definition -- much like the desert, this painting keeps at least some of the mystery veiled.

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