|Racing The Load|
I've never really been sure if indecision was such a bad thing. I had spent a number of weeks rounding up props, models and various ephemera for my next painting. I had taken photos and had worked out a pretty complex preliminary drawing and everything.
And then a completely different idea popped into my head. It's the painting I'm showing here, Racing The Load. I had no idea where it came from, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.
One hundred or more years ago logging was a Winter activity. Before large trucks and heavy equipment came on the scene to easily strip thousands of acres of trees off the land, it was done by man and beast. Winter was considered the best time to do it for a couple of reasons. One was that it was easier to get man-power at that time of year. Many of the lumbermen did this as their Winter job, and spent Summers working as hired hands on farms. The second reason was that snow and ice was easier to move the logs over than mud. Spring, when the snowmelt swelled the rivers and streams, was used to float the logs down-stream to the mills. So logging camps were set up in the forests, and the men went at it until the Winter broke into Spring. Nowadays, we tend to romanticize those times. You know, camping out in the woods, working in the clean mountain air. Coming back to camp and having a nice meal and camaraderie around the fire. Ahhh... that was the life!
In truth, it was brutally hard work in severe and often frigid conditions. It was also decidedly less than sanitary-- to put it mildly. Imagine a few dozen or more sweaty, stinking men who hadn't had a bath in weeks or months jammed together in small poorly ventilated log huts; You could smell a logging camp long before you saw it...
And the wood had to get down the hills to the rivers. That's what this painting is about. Quite often, an unlucky team of horses got run over when the load they were pulling down an icy hill came down faster than they could run. The logs would roll over the poor beasts like a bowling ball, sending the teamster flying off into the woods, battering and breaking bones of all involved. They could patch up the teamster if he lived. No Veterinarians helped the horse.
I wanted to show that frantic, frenetic motion of a team running for their lives-- crashing through the snow, darting through the shadows of the remaining trees, plummeting down toward the dark bottom of the hill like an avalanche. To do that, I tried a couple different tactics.
First off was my point-of-view. Where are you (the viewer) positioned to see this scene swirl past you? Up in a tree? The next hill over? Don't know, do you? This is a nod to the "All omnipotent" point of view that the illustrators of the 30's and 40's used. For instance, check out this illustration of Houdini by Tom Lovell:
Yup, there he is, leaping off a bridge-- but where are you? Look again. You are suspended in mid-air over the river to view this scene. Yikes! So it is with my horses; You are a part of my scene as a viewer, but you're not quite sure where you are.
Another way I tried to impart a sense of emotion along with motion in my picture is through the brush-work. I will be the first to admit that I am a lover of well refined detail. But if I had lovingly painted every rock, twig and log in my usual tight, crisp splendor it would have stifled the flow. So in this case, to keep things in suspense, I went with loaded brush and knife to swirl and splatter the paint in thick impasto.
One last thing about this painting. No photographs were harmed in the making of it. That's right-- this is purely from my imagination. Lord only knows how many years it's been since I did something that didn't have me sweating over a photo, trying to copy every last detail... But it's been awhile!
So there you have it, another Americana painting in the books. I think this makes about a dozen, and one thing I know--
I'm not reining them in!