The Crazy Mountains Alkyd
This commissioned painting is the result of a trip to Montana to hunt and fly fish. When I flew out to Montana, my thought was to do a panoramic landscape with hunters, such as you often see in sporting galleries. However, after experiencing a variety of moments which made up the trip, I decided that a still life was the only way to picture these moments. The classic Parker shotgun, hunting jacket, Hungarian Partridge, print of a partridge flying, and the device of a painting within a painting of my client hunting, told the story of the hunting aspect of the trip. To show the fly fishing side, I painted my own fly rod, and the Trude fly that I used to catch several beautiful Cutthroat Trout on the Bolder River. The rather intricate painting took four months to complete.
I decided on the title, The Crazy Mountains, because they are shown in the painting within a painting, and I was intrigued by the story of how these mountains got their name. A pioneer woman, in seeing these mountains as a further obstacle to cross, lost her mind and wandered off into the wilderness. She was never seen again.
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The Crazy Mountains, was the result of a commission. Normally, I do not accept many commissions, but, when presented with the opportunity to fly to Montana to fly fish and hunt, I quickly accepted the project. I have long enjoyed the outdoor life, and one of my true passions is fly fishing. Also, the commission came from one of my very good friends who for several years had told me of his experiences in Montana, and how beautiful the country was in this particular area. He also told me to get some nice boots and break them in thoroughly as we would cover alot of ground walking, and rattlesnakes were known to be in the area. Interesting! Fine! I have no fear of snakes, and some of the largest rattlesnakes are found where I live in North Carolina. So, three of us flew out to Montana...two hunters and an artist...it is fascinating where painting will lead you! It lead us to Big Timber, Montana and hunting on the Bozeman Trail. You can still see the ruts caused by the wagon wheels, and the buffalo wallows cleared from the grasslands. Wildlife abounds, and the Crazy Mountains watch over the scene like a distant sentinel. With the guide, I followed the hunters in their pursuit of Hungarian Partridge. I studied the birds and made notes and photos of their plumage which varied from bird to bird, and I acquired a small collection of feathers. We covered alot of ground walking...I did not see a rattlesnake, but I saw alot of major blisters on my feet. My admiration for the pioneers on the Bozeman Trail took on new meaning, and I sympathized with the poor pioneer woman who crazily left the wagon train when she saw those mountains ahead that were named for her. She was never seen again. On the third day, we decided to try our hand at fly fishing on the Bolder River in the Gallatin National Forest. We drove up a narrow road that paralleled the river through some of the most magnificent mountains I have seen. Stopping at a particularly beautiful passage of the river, we rigged our fly rods. As I walked to the river, I was confronted by a sign which read, " Caution! This is an active Grizzly Bear area." We do not have Grizzly Bears in North Carolina, and this gave new meaning to the word, "apprehensive" as I tied on a beautiful Trude dry fly. Thankfully, we never saw a Grizzly, but I caught some stunningly beautiful cutthroat trout and released them.
I relate the story above, because it is often the experience that makes the painting. When I flew out to Montana, I thought I would probably do a panoramic landscape with hunters such as you often see in sporting galleries. After experiencing a variety of moments which made up the trip, I decided that the only way to show those experiences was in a still life that grouped them into one painting, and the device of a painting within a painting.
I went through my usual process of sketches and arrived at a pencil drawing composed of the various elements I thought would tell the story of our trip. Then, I borrowed the client's very valuable engraved Parker shotgun and placed it into a final toned sketch for his approval. The shotgun sits on his hunting jacket with the barrel resting on a coat rack. The coat rack actually was not there and is completely a made-up element of the composition. The small antique nightstand at the bottom has been in my family for years and seemed a good choice because of it's combination of interesting curves. I thought this would break-up the rather Mondrian-like composition of straight lines. The painting within a painting on the wall records the area where we hunted, and depicts my friend with a pointer dog pointing a covey of Hungarian Partridge. My friend carries his Parker shotgun shown to the left of the painting. In the background, you see the Crazy Mountains in much the same way the unfortunate pioneer woman saw them when she wandered off into the wilderness. To depict the fly fishing portion of the trip, I used my own graphite fly rod. Just above the framed painting, you can see the same Trude dry fly that I tied on while worrying about the Grizzly Bears. The Hungarian Partridge shown are taken from several different photos of the birds that I made during the hunt. I placed them together in an arrangement I thought suitable, and changed the direction of the light falling on them. From my collection of feathers, I placed a single feather on the lapel of the jacket. Since these were dead birds, I wanted to somehow show a live bird, and decided to use the device of an old print. This print is completely made up from imagination and research gathered on the trip. The script writing beneath the print, and the engraving on the shotgun were among the more difficult items to suggest in the painting.
I realize that many people object to the depiction of something dead in a painting, but death has been depicted in art since the cavemen rendered their matchless art in the cave of Lascaux in France 30,000 years ago. Leonardo da Vinci, Bosch, the Dutch Masters and Goya have delt with death in various ways as they recorded the scene that was passing before them. These particular birds ended up as food in the same manner as the breast of chicken or broccoli you bought at the grocery....or, as I would have ended up had the Grizzly been fortunate enough to come upon me on the Bolder River.
The back wall in The Crazy Mountains was glazed many times. Since the gesso for this painting purposely had a vertical brushed texture, I ran a palette knife over these glazes to indicate a wood grain texture beneath the paint. Accidental textures were also taken advantage of in the texturing of the wall. Many of the shadows are built up from glazes, and the overall color is minutely balanced with glazing. The Crazy Mountains took about four months to complete.
Robert B. Dance