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Smoke Over Salmon River

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  • Smoke Over Salmon River framed.jpeg
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A work inspired by the Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho, while chasing a small pod of clear air before a rain and snow storm. Painting one morning as smoke rolled in, I realized I was humming a song.

 I was painting a 'smoke rise' over the Salmon River, and Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" was the song. Even though I was a kindergartner when it was released, I distinctly remember the rhythm and chorus. As I (much) later learned, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's interest in Renaissance music inspired the very basic but darkly catchy riff.

 I also later learned of the interesting back story - someone fired a flare gun at a Frank Zappa concert in Montreux, Switzerland, which started a fire. Mr. Zappa stopped the show and ensured everyone exited safely. The venue burned down, and Lake Geneva was covered in a layer of smoke. Deep Purple were there to record an album at that venue, and witness the scene, writing their most famous song about it. The Rolling Stones ended up lending them their mobile studio equipment to record, playing a part in the story as well.

 You just can't make this stuff up!

 But it does illustrate how a moment’s excitement or lack of forethought and critical thinking can lead to a bad outcome. Fireworks for a gender reveal party, a farm implement striking a rock, a sanitation worker dumping the burning load from his truck in high winds, a cigarette out the car window - they’re all examples. Unfortunately most of these events do not lead to a classic song. This painting is part of my Natural Rhythm Series, which you can read about below.

This work is framed with a gallery natural frame in a shadowbox style. The acrylic glazing is anti-reflective, anti-static, scratch-resistant and 99% UV filtering. Framed size is 11 5/8"  high by x 13 3/4" wide x 1 1/4" deep. 

Natural Rhythm Series:

This series of work reflects my experiences attempting to avoid smoke of the 2020 wildfire season on the West Coast. While Covid-19 complicated things, I was able to travel in my van safely and mostly escape the ill effects of smoke. My sketches and studies were the meditations to spark ideas.  Developing the images further in my studio has allowed me to expand on my thoughts of this time and enjoy the natural beauty once more. 

“My soul can find no staircase to heaven unless it be through earth's loveliness.” ~ Michelangelo

The difference between the clear and smoke filled days was dramatic, and reflected different palettes, vistas and depth of field. I perceived stronger, brighter colors as the air cleared after a few days of smoke.  Using a glazing technique on these pieces reflects that intensity. The same technique helped build the muted warm colors and indistinct shapes viewed through the veil of smoke in other works. A subtle shift in wind changed a scene in such a brief period of time I was inspired to record the environmental dichotomy, among other things.  

While fire is a necessary element of earth’s ecology, the combination of climate change, over 100 years of suppression, and the increase in population in the wildland-urban interface has created yet another devastating fire season. How are humans going to manage this conflict going forward? What clarity can be gained and which solutions will be obscured? The natural rhythm may be ancient, but each generation must learn to adjust as the rhythms change during its time here. My reflections ask more questions than they answer, and I hope my work brings you peace with the chaos of these thoughts. 

Responses (1)

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Alicia Puig
Alicia Puig Critic

October 31, 2022

One of the first aspects of this work that I noticed was the uneven shape of the paper and its deckled edges. Whether intentional or not, this quality of rawness adds to the overall visual impact of the painting in the way that it mirrors the textures and linework seen throughout the composition. Beyond the unique substrate on which the work is painted, the artist draws the viewer in with dramatic contrasts between the deep forest green along with the saturated brownish-gray tones, and the muted blue and sand-colored shades at the top of the scene. The sky achieves the smokey effect alluded to in the title with the thin, washy application of paint and the resulting hazy edges of each swatch of color. Negative space doubling as linework in the foreground creates the illusion of depth. Although there is much to appreciate formally, I also enjoyed learning about the anecdotes and thoughts that went into this painting. Rather than the fear of wildfires or disillusionment from the often devastating effects of climate change, I see this piece as a sign of hope, a reminder to appreciate the sublime beauty of our environment, and an uplifting call to protect it for the generations to come.

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Kristen Dunkelberger

October 31, 2022

Thanks, Alicia. It always feels good when others notice the details that are important to the maker!

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Kristen Dunkelberger
Landscape, Nature
Painting - Framed with Plexi
Watercolors, Canvas
9.50 inches wide
7.30 inches tall
1.25 inches deep
3.30 lbs
Crowley Lake, CA, US