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Far West

Memories of the red rock plateau fringe my dreams. The vast openness of Wikatata, the haunting kivas and cliff dwellings of Tyuonyi. Something about the openness and rawness of the land speaks to me, fills me with a sense of calm and wonder that falls about like a magic hush. Softened purple light reflecting in the eye of a magpie, quiet and inquisitive from the branch of a scrubby juniper on the high plateau.

Landscape photo of Grand Canyon, Wikatata, by bioregional fine artist Derek Schultz

Photographs of Wikatata (Grand Canyon) by Rebecca Appling

The inner seasons of the canyons are a neverending labyrinth of strange mysteries and echoes of the ancient past. The upheaval of ancient sea beds, the shifting layers of volcanic ash and sand, the red rock. Iron runs in a lineage from elder stars departed from this universe on through the torn and cracked skin of the Earth.

Landscape photo of New Mexico by bioregional fine artist Derek Schultz

What is it about the raw earth of the desert west that feels like a process of healing deep in my body? The light reflecting on the land has a quality of sorcery, of secrets for which there are no words. The internal and external processes of our planet are laid bare here, like the most intimate emotional vulnerability one could hope to achieve. Vulnerability creates the space for the sacred to emerge.

Pencil sketch of a mountain lion skull with barrel cacti and mesa desert landscape by bioregional fine artist Derek Schultz
Pencil sketch for Puma concolor

It is in this space of sacred vulnerability that I hope the shapes begin to produce themselves: the same shapes on paper which I felt the eldest spirits of the land carving into my body, eroding my mind and heart to a sculpted form.

Landscape photograph of a rock formation in New Mexico by bioregional fine artist Derek Schultz

Photograph of petroglyphs in Arizona by bioregional fine artist Derek Schultz
Petroglyphs are an electric bolt of culture through time, connecting past to present instantaneously

In this sense, drawing upon stone becomes the most sacred art form of all. The erosive action of the elder spirits of wind and water gains consciousness through the motion of our hands; now muscles and blood and brain have entered the contract with the earth, shearing ancient seabeds and volcanic cores, heaving wet clay, binding the sharp fibers of cacti to mark ephemeral skin with the same pigments marking the abiding rock. Earth born of earth, enfolding upon itself. Making marks to denote what is sacred, what is worth holding in thought across time.

Work in progress of watercolor painting of mountain lion skull and barrel cactus by bioregional fine artist Derek Schultz
Painting proceeds with watercolor washes

My interest in making art carries me back to the earliest recorded human impulse. Painting is tattooing the body of a tree – tattooing is making pictographs under the skin. I pick up the brush; water and air moderate the interaction of pigments and weathered bodies. Beneath our tattooed skin is a mineral concretion of earth which we call bone. A vision of the skull comes into view: the armored seat of consciousness, a nexus of raw material organized into an electrical network of interactivity. Like the physical acoustics of the sound of the voice, perhaps the shapes of our thoughts are sculpted by the shapes of our skulls, and our skulls are weathered and bent by the living breathing spirits of the land we dwell upon.

The vision forms as if from a dream.

A memory of New Mexico. One of my last remaining formative paintings from 2018, Puma concolor is available for purchase here.

To the east, the red rock plateau peopled with juniper scrub rises and gives way to forested mountains under condensing cloud formations.

The plateau ascends to greet the mountain air, thick with the clouds only known by the far west. The golden aspens whisper across broad skylines, the people who shimmer and shake with the turning season, perhaps the oldest living communal organisms on Earth. What secrets do they keep?

As the desert lays bare the inner workings of the Earth, so it lays bare the marks left upon the land. An opening yawns in the desert like a doorway into the heart chamber of a petrified giant. A thick layer of charcoal covers the arching ceiling: the soot of memories. The chamber is suddenly filled with stars. This is a visit to the inner sanctum of the temple, an audience with the past and the future of the land itself.

Ancestral pueblo cliff dwelling at Tyuonyi, Bandelier National Monument, photograph by bioregional fine artist Derek Schultz

Much of my work is dealing with the question of how we as people encode meaning within simple abstract, geometric shapes. This is the magic which is the origin of writing: runes to draw sounds, hieroglyphs to narrate unto new generations what is sacred to us. It is a reflection of our condition of existence. We are assembled out of chaos and cosmic dust, ejected from stars. It is through the geometry of our sculptured bodies, our bones and our thoughts, that meaning is layered into our lives, sediments on the sea floor enclosing fossil memories and instincts, becoming the structure of our selves.

Our bodies are glyphs, painted by the life and forces surrounding us, our pneuma.

First salutations to the stars.

Thanks to all relatives and ancestors.

May all beings be happy and free.

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