I had been working on a medium size canvas for several weeks. Not with the brush so much as with the mind and heart. I had interest in the grass waving in the wind and the feeling of an upward bursting of sedimentary shelf rock that a low lying valley view might give. I sought something of a signature Flint Hill top in the distance and the technique of thick, wildly applied foreground paint similar to my departed neighbor, Birgir Sandzen but with more attention to the subtleties of cool and warm value differences than the vivid contrasts of color families.
I struggled against an indefinite focal point. Not good for art destined to settle in Kansas, not good at all. I had an Eastern Buddhist meditative space but not a Westerner's singular focal point. Must have the target bulls eye. I had a space but not a place. Instant recognition of meaning in a visual image is formally referred to as a cartoon. I have come to accept that "Car" Toons are the preference of Western folk, ie. Americans, the ones who spend their lives flying and dying in Cars. The painting cooled, waiting for me to grow up to it's completion point. Then it happened. The unthinkable.
"Red Tail and the Cottonwood" was the first painting I came back to after my 18 year old son, Ben, was killed in July of 2007. I was unable to think or feel much of anything else but how horrible it was to loose him-I was frequently gripped by images of him being run over by a semi-tractor, fuel transport truck on a hot and treeless stretch of Kansas Highway. It happened in the shadow of the towers of industry as they belched petroleum particulate matter into the once pristine July prairie air. A place where no one ever wanted to slow down or stop, so they didn't. They stacked up four deep behind his 90cc motor bike and after a few minutes the impatient lead ran him over.
I love to watch the hawks in summer. They float head to wind and circle then flap four or five then glide. They move with large measured grace as if they own the sky and disdain the pedestrian domain below them. On the wing, against the cumulus clouds free from the ground's tether they are always at work, endlessly watching, searching. I had never painted a Red Tail Hawk until I truly wished I could fly- not just through space but across the barrier of time as well.
My war of worlds, completely internal. So futile, so tiny was a wish of hopeless hope, a dream without reason, my little brushes, paints and disbelief but like a Westerner, something was better than nothing- my little nothing in a world of everything laying on top of my missing heart.
Then, despite all reason, I knew how to finish this painting.
I could, in my dream fly full bodied into the shadow and roar of tires on pavement- lift Ben at just the right moment and set him, stronger, brighter, happier and infinitely more healthy and hopeful than me, gently and safely at the roadside. All of this dream was true except for the outcome, I can not change that.
"...a Red Tailed Hawk owns the skies on midsummer day..." I am not sorry to say I hate gasoline and cars and trucks and the industries that have done so much harm. It was and is not for the good. It has laid waste to this fragile planet, taken uncountable numbers of human lives and is a huge source of misery. I've had a twenty foot commute to work for the past thirty years.
Where is the infinite prairie that belonged to the Red tails for thousands of years? Fallen beneath the wheels of inhumanity. What I mean is that I would rather see gasoline die for my son. Yeah, that's right, ALL GASOLINE. Well, you know...accidently that is.