Some of my favorite views I’ve painted many times are from the Upper Saddle of the Grand. On this particular occasion Alison and I had been heading over to climb the Exum Ridge. Just as we got to the Wall Street ledge about 4:30 AM we were hit by a huge storm that sent lightening bolts crashing around the upper reaches of the peak. We decided not to commit to the Exum ridge, which doesn’t have an escape route until much higher up. Instead we continued up the gulley we were in to the Upper Saddle. From there we saw the clouds encircling the Middle Teton, a beautiful composition. Art is a higher priority for me than climbing, and I pulled out my pastels and dashed off a quick sketch.
The next day we climbed the Exum Ridge in perfect weather, thus having our cake and eating it too, as the saying goes.
The story of the painting:
With the pastel study and some photo references I worked up a larger pastel in the studio, 18 x 25 inches and sent this off to the 2006 Buffalo Bill Art Show and Sale in Cody.
It was bought by Deb Stafford, the director of the show at the time. I also started a large oil version about that time.
In 2012 I had a solo show and decide to cut this piece down to 52 x 50 inches, eliminating 22 inches from the sides. The piece didn’t sell and I brought it back and leaned it up against the wall, where it sat for 7 years. Meanwhile other projects came and went, including a few other versions of the same view in different light.
When I finally pulled it back out on the easel this year it seemed that it was perfect, fabulous and complete. I did a few minor touch-ups, but I thought to myself, “Why have I discounted this painting? Why do I love it now? Is it a change of attitude? Has the painting mellowed with age, like a wine? Or is it the new lights I put in the studio last year?”
At any rate, it seems a wonderful depiction of the mountaineer’s view. The clouds hovering in and out add a touch of mystery. I like the brushwork: free but descriptive, not overstated. The mountains are solid and monumental and the clouds are soft and ephemeral. I used the colors of dawn, with the warm yellows and oranges, different from the colors in my plein-air sketch.
The 52 x 72 inch “Evening View from upper Saddle” will be shown in June at the University of Wyoming Art Museum. The light is coming from the opposite direction and there are no clouds to obscure the view out onto the valley. I think this morning view with clouds would make a nice compliment, but at the time the curator came by to select pieces for the show I didn’t even consider this painting worthy of her attention.