This is a lovely article about my show at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, which is on through February 14th..
‘Dialogue with Beauty’ written by Ann Weiler Walka
This winter, landscapes from the heart of the Colorado Plateau, the broken and beautiful terrain north of the Colorado River, fill the Museum of Northern Arizona’s Fine Arts Gallery with sunshine blazing on sandstone and the chill of canyon shadow, monsoon’s operatic clouds, February’s smoldering willows , and, everywhere, pristine high country light. The work of Scotty Mitchell, referred to by MNA curator Alan Petersen as one of the most exciting landscape artists working on the Plateau today, transforms the gallery into a wild world, at once dreamlike and rooted in place. The show is entitled ‘Dialogue with Beauty.’
After two fleeting visits with Scotty in her studio in Boulder, Utah, a hamlet tucked in a lush valley at the foot of Boulder Mountain (a favorite stop of mine when I was wandering the Escalante country doing ‘field work’ for a new book) , I came to stay with her for a few days in May. When I pulled up in her dirt driveway, late one afternoon, she was out racing the light, a practice of hers when she works on a drawing too large or complex to finish before the shadows shift.
Scotty often strides into the high desert with her dog Sophy, an unfinished drawing carefully tucked under her arm, to find the easel she stowed under a juniper a day or two before when the view screamed ‘that’s it.’ Sophy circles into a favorite bit of shade, and Scotty triangulates on the drawing underway, matching the light now to the light and shadow on the paper. Large pieces often take days or weeks to complete, but every drawing is finished outdoors, in its birthplace.
The morning after I arrived, Scotty took me hiking into a wilderness of slickrock above Boulder Creek. Together we climb a hill made of silica and light, skirting the crypto, greeting familiar spring flowers whose names we forget. Sophy sniffs at shrubs in the beetle-stitched pools of sand, and we humans marvel at a slant of stone splashed with lichen, a tapestry in rust, fiery orange, pale gray-green. On a high dune we sit gazing at a far blue escarpment and closer convoluted stone. The silence away from the road, as Scotty notes in a blog, is ‘heavy with potential.’
I scribble and Scotty sketches, just playing today, deftly capturing a stack of cream and coral-colored strata. Her practiced eye – the eye of a sculptor, I assume, fascinated with form and heft – quickly deciphers the topography of the rock face while in her quiet mind she perceives the textures of stone and lichen, the temperature change from sun to shadow, subtle shifts in color when a raft of vultures drifts through the cobalt sky.
There’s no drawing from that day in the quiet off white gallery, but the passion for beauty and the decades of practice with brilliantly colored pastels wrap around me when I visit on a January morning. In drawing after drawing , the color is so richly and meticulously applied that surely I could call them paintings. A remarkable union of abstract patterns of form and color and the deep particularity of a specific escarpment, a familiar juniper, a sky that places me precisely in a season and a time of day, urges me to gaze and daydream. Even if I had never visited Scotty’s terrain, I would want to linger.
Geology verges on poetry here; the wide sweeps of white, wind-swirled slickrock, sheer terra cotta cliffs and shell pink monoliths both charm and convince. A handful of paintings capture the gifts of scarce water in dry country: willows flushed orange in the early spring, the cottonwood extravaganza of late fall and their naked filigree in winter, the shimmer of young aspens on the snowy mountain. Three small drawings evoke winter in Boulder town, the black cows and hedgerows nearly swallowed by clouds in countless shades of gray. Aphrodite, a boxy little vintage RV with a custom picture window, carries Scotty, Sophy and the pastels up on the mountain or down the Burr trail when it’s too inclement to work outdoors. This woman can’t not go out to draw.
Stunning as the country’s landforms are, Scotty’s skies can be even more captivating: those blues from winter pale to turquoise to lapis lazuli to deep October cobalt. In the monsoon paintings, the drama of the desert storms and the intensity of the artist who calls herself a ‘cloud chaser’ electrifies the paper. Scotty writes about driving around, aching “to capture all of those wondrous clouds that leap and dance and hover and disappear.” The quality of her attention, the commitment to being there, the years of drawing allow her to be in her own words “quick, quick, quick and enter that zone of being on one’s toes and fully present… And then some magical times I am able to abandon thought and run on heart and intuition.”
Scotty’s dialogue with beauty offers us a look at a deeply informed sensibility, a lively mind and a passionate heart, along with the remarkable stone and sky and light of the Plateau country. Any visitor to the gallery may join in the conversation.
The exhibit ‘Dialogue with Beauty’ is on at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff through February 15th. Scotty will be at the exhibition on February 14th at 2:00 p.m. and will be happy to answer any questions.
About the Author
Ann Weiler Walka explores and writes about the backcountry of the Colorado Plateau, both the tangible terrain and the landscape of the imagination. Her book Walking the Unknown River: Travels in Escalante Country is a collection of poems and stories from the heart of the plateau province. Most recently she was invited by master photographers, Don Kirby and Joan Gentry, to collaborate in making The Anasazi Project.