Today is the day, quick draw day. All the artists have 2 hours to paint a piece that will be auctioned off this morning.
No pressure right.
These artists are calm and cool, they know what they are doing, they do this all the time, walk in the park. Until the officials are looking over your shoulder saying "50 more minutes".
I can feel the pressure in the air.
My day is supposed to be relaxed. My plan is to have one of the most chill days ever. Go to the canyon in the morning, watch some artists paint the canyon, check out the auction, simple beautiful, relaxing. And nope...
The night before my friends that have come to visit have easily agreed to go to the Canyon. Which is great news because this means I'm not going to miss the whole thing. But then I tell them we have to be up and out of the house by 7am so I can be there at 8am.
Why 8am, what's the big deal right, they paint until 10? Well, I'm into the drama of it all. Have you ever seen a blank canvas and an artists face when deciding on an infinite number of options? They can setup anywhere, paint anything, shadows are a factor, light, color, contrast, shapes, composition. Remember, their canvas is blank. There is nothing there. What will they do?
Even when there is a part of a painting not finished my heart pounds with wonder about what they will do in that spot. Will they ruin a beautiful piece with some distracting off value monolithic shape of some kind at the end and not realize it until it's too late. Remember, they will finish and it will go into a frame wet headed straight for the auction just a few hundred feet away from where they are setup now. Their canvas is blank, will they have time? What will come of it? What has a week at the canyon, painting up to 6 paintings a day have taught them. Will they bring anything to the table?
Every artist here is a professional, but what does that even mean? Can a professional artist flop an ugly uninspiring painting at any time? Yes, they absolutely can. But that's not what is getting me, I'm not at a monster truck rally, hoping for a wreck and a helivac. I'm deep into the drama of a blank canvas so I can imagine along with the artist. I need to see them begin their sketch. I need to see them walk the space, and find their point of interest, see them identify the edge of their space, the scale that will be forever etched onto this panel.
But no, we get their late.
No offence to the driver, but speed limits are a suggestion, they are not meant to be followed all the time. Certainly not in the face of such unfolding drama.
I arrive to see easels erect, panels long since sketched and color blasting around from corner to corner. The canyon is being reflected above every tripod, and the beauty of the canyon is being revealed.
If anyone has ever gone to the Grand Canyon and said, "Yup, it's a hole in the ground". They are missing the beauty, and that is not possible when the eyes of these great world class artists are showing you exactly what is inspiring them. It's not uncommon for a tourist to say "Wow, such beautiful colors you've chosen", when it's clear that those colors are right there, in the canyon, right in front of you. So is the vastness, and the awe. The artists show you how to look at the canyon, and the appreciation for this amazing feature of earth is made that much greater.
The time is ticking, they are no longer relaxed artists. The jokes have stopped. The officials calmly stroll by, 10 more minutes.
I'm walking down the path as fast as I can get from one end of the artists to the other, and I'm trying to talk to each. As the end of the competition nears the artists have less and less time to chat, and who can blame them. This is sink or swim time.
I get to Bill Cramer, and he has clearly been over zealous on his composition, huge width, lots of detail. I'm nervous for him, but what he does have finished is beautiful. I wonder, will he have time to finish? If you've never meet Bill, that's too bad, you really should. All of these artists are great, but Bill has a charm and a relaxed nature. I'm sure everyone feels quite at home talking with Bill.
I'm not able to keep my eyes off the huge vertical across from him. Joshua Been has an eye for the gravity of this place, and the pull his painting has down to the depth of the canyon is obvious. He has been hiking the canyon while painting all week and he has definitely gotten intimately familiar with this wonder of the world. He has fallen in deep deep love with this place, and it's obvious he is not painting the canyon, he is using his brush to stroke it's curves and whisper his secret love into it's crevasses.
I'm done. I can no longer paint after seeing how it's supposed to be done. When it all comes together and the emotion, beauty, and depth all reveal themselves. Along with Josh, the other 23 artists have created a body of work that couldn't be reviled by any time in the history of art.
The auction begins, and I slink away quietly weeping inside, feeling as if I've stolen some meaning from these pigment pushers. They have plenty, I can bring home some, right.
I can't wait until next year, when they try to do it again and do it even better.