Saturday, December 28, 2013

Subtleties of the Kansas landscape

Sometimes I wonder how much Kansas inspires me... probably quite a bit, but I won't go in to all the reasons here and now. I can say that there is something in the landscape that sculpts how I think about color and contrast in my paintings. Despite my persistent use of bright, bold colors, there is something else at work in the background - something that shifts and pulls and suggests and informs. I think that that something is the thin line of color one sees on a Kansas landscape as the sun either rises or sets. It's nearly impossible to describe and very difficult to capture in a photo, but anyone who's lived here for a while should know exactly what I'm talking about.

It's the subtle interplay of light and color that dances on the horizon when you aren't paying attention and then grabs you when you turn your head, causing you to gasp before it disappears minutes later. It's the hum of lavender scattering across the sky after the sunset has dispersed in the evening or the hint of tangerine peeking over the hills minutes before the sun starts to blaze in the early winter morning hours or the tufts of turquoise fighting to be seen through the vibrant purples and oranges of a classic Kansas sunset. It's how the snowy hills reflect the moonlight against the patchy clouds at midnight, causing a dull blue-green hue to hover on the horizon. It's how the landscape can go black an hour after the sun has disappeared while the sky reveals a shade of midnight blue never seen in a tube of paint, vibrating against a thin line of pale yellow that suggests the sun isn't quite through with Kansas for the day. It's how an overcast, gray day can make a little blue house with a tan lawn look striking if even a sliver of sunlight gets through the layers of clouds to bounce off the water that clings to the dead grass.

I have often thought that Kansas has to underwhelm before it can overwhelm. People tend to arrive in Kansas and wonder what on earth it has to offer; if you keep that attitude, you'll never be shaken by its beauty. But if you start to open your eyes to the interplay of light, color, and composition taking place, Kansas will take your breath away. The contradiction itself amazes me.

The photo seen here is of the Konza Prairie, which is as unique a geological feature as the Grand Canyon, but with much less fanfare and tourist traffic. In December 2006, I took this picture of the hills opposite the setting sun because the color reminded me of when the prairie is burned in the Spring. Funny how a setting winter sun can achieve almost the same effect!

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