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Landscape Lottery

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TRIAL RUN: TUCSON, ARIZONA

During a two-week visit to Tucson this past fall, I decided I needed a project that would keep me focused on painting while involving the family I was staying with. At the time I was also intrigued by the idea of letting chance choose the locations where I would paint, and that became the project's defining element.

First I devised a simple method for generating mathematically random GPS points within the Greater Tucson area. Then, each evening for ten days, my hosts' son plugged in some numbers and came up with random latitude and longitude coordinates for me to visit the next day. We called this the Landscape Lottery.

For each location I produced one or two small-panel paintings, either painting on site or working back at the house from sketches and photographs taken on site. This exercise forced me to think outside my own familiar or conventional ways of seeing the city (which I know fairly well) and to tackle some unexpected subject matter. It also led to some memorable chance encounters with other people (see below*).



ON DISPLAY

Several of the resulting paintings were included in a recent exhibit at Phillips Andover Academy - among a selection of 60 paintings from my last four Itinerant Artist Project tours.

A photo of the Landscape Lottery portion of the exhibit is shown at right, along with an aerial map showing GPS locations, and three of the individual paintings.

PaintIngs (from top to bottom):

Point #5, Saguaros Near Dakota Road
Point #4, The Airforce Boneyard
Point #7, Gravel Lawns


Click on any image to get an enlarged view.

And click here for the full portfolio, which now includes paintings from a second round of the project in March 2015.



BRIEF RUMINATIONS

As a painter friend pointed out recently, when you paint something you already consider beautiful or see as picturesque there's a tendency to be conservative, to put a lot of one's main energy into transcription or matching preconceptions. When there's no easy or obvious subject matter you have to dig deeper. You are invited, if not required, to bring more of yourself, more exploratory energy, into the process.

It's a truism that a good painter can make a painting from any subject matter (an interesting parallel is the idea that a mystic can find divine beauty anywhere). Many of the locations that the Landscape Lottery sent me to challenged my resourcefulness. I have to admit I was often frustrated. But, in the end, my favorite paintings turned out to be those done in the locations that I initially found the least inspiring.


















*UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTERS

I knew in theory that each point I went to, by removing me from accustomed patterns of experiencing Tucson, was opening me up to fresh and unpredictable influences. I saw people and things I never would have seen otherwise. This was not always especially rewarding, but sometimes it was.

One encounter of special note was with a man named Joe Mussulman, who lives on the outskirts of Tucson, past a line of low, ragged little mountains, in a low-density residential area that doesn't get many visitors:

I was sketching by the side of the road, near his neighbor's driveway – Landscape Lottery point #5 – when he drove up slowly in his pickup and asked if I needed help, in a familiar tone that suggested I might want to to move along if I didn't need help. I explained that someone was giving me a series of random GPS points, and I was making a landscape painting for each location. He grinned unexpectedly and said that sounded like a fun idea. "You've ended up in a good spot," he said. "I'm a painter, too. And a couple of my neighbors are also artists."

I asked if I could see some of his work. After hesitating a moment or two, he said sure, if I was still sketching when he got back from the drugstore.

It turned out that Joe doesn't just paint, he also writes authentic-sounding myths and histories to go with his fanciful paintings of hot air balloons transposed into various exotic cultures and settings; he sculpts brass figurines based on the surreal visions of Hieronymous Bosch; he builds bathroom vanities out of old pianos (with pedals operating the water faucet); he makes staineed glass windows and restores old trucks; and he had painted a mural in his chicken coop that "got me a place on the Tucson chicken coop tour."

The door of his chicken coop announces: Chickstine Chapel. Click on the photo for the full view.



SPECIAL THANKS...

...to my chief collaborator, Lars Eckerstrom, for taking an interest in the successful completion of the project, as well as taking responsibility for generating most of the GPS points. Without his participation, I might have painted other paintings, but not as many, and none of these.




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Keywords: Jim Mott, landscape painter, Itinerant Artist Project, landscape painting commissions, fine art prints, giclee prints, g