There is a small sector of the video industry that makes birds-eye videos of landscapes, swooping helicopter-mounted cameras around mountain peaks and over waterfalls, or gazing down at the etchings of rivers and vegetation on the plains from a serene height undisturbed by swamp gas or mosquitos or snarky hiking companions.
I’ve been sorting through a library of such images shot a few years ago over Wyoming, trying to figure out how to cohere them into some sort of watchable thing for Wyoming PBS. One option is to look for stories and history in this landscape. Pete Simpson has graciously recorded some narration recalling that the U.S. Congress considered naming our state “Lincoln,” and musing about whether that name matches the landscape: “Tall. Craggy. Funny, and smart, in a homespun way. And lonely. Lincoln, we know, had the loneliest job in the world.” Welcome to our tall, craggy, lonesome state.
But if you let the aerial images flow by, and replace the helicopter engine hum with music – my choice, some of Jeff Troxel’s amazing flat-picking guitar – it’s tempting to do away with words. After awhile, you stop distinguishing the dots as GMC trucks, or the lines as power corridors, or the gash of a strip mine, or the tongue of a glacier. Elevation doesn’t so much blur this detail as abstract it – you see patterns, shapes, colors, that aren’t evident when you’re on the ground in the midst of it.
One can experience this too with Google Earth, which can zoom you from a satellite eye on the globe to your neighborhood in a few clicks of the keyboard – a chance to see how our garbage is sprawling around the landfill, and check on whether the neighbor’s dog is nosing around our chicken coop. Once you’re done with that, though, you may want to pull back – not just because it’s creepy to have Google in my backyard, but also to see the mosaic of human grid-work and the way it nests in watersheds and mountain ranges and forests. And, finally, those patterns and shapes. What do they suggest? This is your latter-day Rorschach test.
My colleague, Virginia Moore, who has been working with me on the “Over Wyoming” documentary and several others, has taken this elevated perspective to a new level in a series of large paintings she’s done over the past year, some of which are now hanging at the Metro Café in Casper. In Moore’s work, the colors and lines of pivot irrigation whorls and ragged forest edges are heightened and transformed. They become color quilts, organic tendrils, marbled paper, the pulsing blood of a transparent body. The jostling of curve and color has transcended the merely real.
This is not perhaps what most people expect from Wyoming artists. Many tourists, at least, are prowling Jackson galleries for rampant elk beneath a full moon in front of the Tetons. Can we try something different? Can we do something with the “Over Wyoming” video that won’t be just another pretty-picture flyover for PBS fundraising?
It’s not easy being an artist of any stripe. And we have many stripes in Wyoming – thumb electronically through the Wyoming Arts Council “Artist Image Registry” and you’ll find a great range of talent in a variety of media and styles on display. It takes years of dedication to hone your art, and without – particularly for younger artists – much recognition or recompense. Our attention to them is as random and occasional as a stroll into the Metro Coffee Company, but it’s important that we do that, and I’m not just saying that because Virginia Moore works with me.
In fact, I’m not sure where she finds the time for all this painting – we might have to dock her pay.