Landscape lottery

Jim Mott's saguaro from his stay in Tuscon

Jim Mott’s saguaro from his stay in Tuscon

Jim Mott, my friend the itinerant painter, has modified his M.O. just slightly. He’s an itinerant painter who now, sometimes, becomes a . . . hm. . .  sojourning painter, I guess. Not to put too fine a point on it, technically speaking, he goes somewhere now and hangs around longer. Until lately, he’s been doing very long-distance laps for the sake of his painting. He’s a soul with a stopwatch ticking for the act of seeing (which is life, isn’t it)? He usually goes to a faraway place, like Washington state, and then comes home slowly, like Odysseus (but without nearly as much bloodshed along the way), through Idaho and Colorado or whatever, Wyoming, say. He stays with people who feed him in exchange for a painting of their surroundings. No money changes hands. Only hospitality for a tribute to the ordinariness of the place.

In Arizona not too long ago, he tried a new tack. He stuck around for a month and did minature Joseph Campbell day-trips out and back, over and over again, right around Tuscon. He came home to Rochester with shots of some fresh work, and I told him I thought it opened up a new way of exploring his relationship with people and landscapes far from home. Every day he would generate a new GPS point on the map, using a computer–would this count as some kind of self-fulfilling sortilege? I hope so. It would be cool and James Merrill-y to think of it that way, but it was digital divination as Stanley Kramer might have filmed it: his lottery delivered him to the runway of an airport one day and a dried-up aqueduct on another. (Go to the train station and paint it, Charles Hawthorne told his students. Go to this ditch and paint it, Jim’s computer told him.) Sticking to plan and principles, he got out his paints and looked hard. Which means the looking is much easier and rewarding, for all the rest of us, now that he’s back. I’ll never think of my Garmin app in the same way again.

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