June 29, 2008, 06:29 PM ET
The Magic Mountain for Painters
Friday, 27 June 2008
Tomorrow, my husband and I head off to Idyllwild, Calif. (in the San Jacinto mountains, east of L.A.), to be visiting artists at Painting’s Edge. This is one of several art colonies (like MacDowell, the Vermont Studio Center and Skowhegan) that are popular destinations for artists who want to get away from it all —it being their own regular studios, day jobs, families, and friends. We’ll be two of 17 artists and critics who pass through for a few days, giving lectures and critiques to the (mostly) youngish painters who are in residence for two weeks.
For many artists, a residency at an art colony is just what the doctor ordered. It permits an artist to set up a temporary studio, meet other artists, subject his or her work to critiques from the variety of artists and critics who traipse through while they’re in residence, and most important, allows them to devote endless hours to thinking and talking about art. The experience digests slowly, mostly afterwards, and in the long run it strengthens the artist’s work.
Directed by the artist Roland Reiss for the past seven years, Painting’s Edge is different from most other art colonies in focusing exclusively on painting. It’s part of a large summer arts program that takes place every summer on the stunningly beautiful desert-mountain campus of Idyllwild Arts, a boarding school for high-school students who want to concentrate in the arts.
Day One: Saturday, 28 June 2008
5:00 a.m. Hubby and I rise, feed the cats, and sleepily make our way out to Newark Airport.
8:30 a.m. Plane departs. Raymond Chandler novel comes out of bag for duration of flight in order to work my New Yorker self into an L.A. mood.
2:00 p.m. Arrive LAX, pick up our Prius rental (expensive, but we wanted to try one out; turns out it’s true the thing goes absolutely silent whenever it’s asked to start or stop).
2:30-4:00 p.m. Drive east for an hour and a half on Route 10, in stifling heat. Ah, but it’s dry, people always say, as if dry somehow makes hot go away. Pass through the heart of Melvin-and-Howard-land. Stare blankly at rows of Canary Island Date Palms — not even native to the region, but even so its symbol — now slowly dying off from some sort of fungus.
4:00 p.m. Turn off onto Route 243, leaving the flat, stupefying heat behind. Wend our way up the narrow, zig-zaggy road that leads into the San Jacinto mountains.
4:45 p.m. Arrive at Idyllwild Arts Center. Still hot, but 10 degrees cooler (according to the dash on our Prius) than down in the flats. Feel the elevation (5000 feet), as the air is thin and light. Mountain heat makes things like the moon — step out of the sun into the shade and you’re suddenly cool. There are lots of tall pine trees and humongous, light beige boulders lie scattered about everywhere. Tufted jays squawking overhead, nonstop. Glimpses, around almost every corner, of the 10,000-foot mountain range in the distance.
5:30 p.m. (East Coast Time, this would be my usual bedtime — even if I hadn’t gotten up at 5:00 a.m.). Staying at the lovely house of the Idyllwild Arts Summer program president and his wife — generously lent to us, while they’re out of town, for the duration of our visit. Sit with feet up, inside a screened-in porch that faces the steep woods, while sipping water and contemplating Lily Rock, the bulge in the mountain range high up above the tree line. Binocs come out: Are those people up there on that rock?
6:30 p.m. Drive the great barracuda back to the campus for the evening’s two lectures. First, however, pig out on wine and munchies at the pre-lecture reception, listening to talk about painting. Wine plus jet lag plus heat begin to make me nod.
7:00-9:00 Wake up for the lectures — back-to-back — one by a visiting artist, one by a visiting critic. Lectures both about painting, painting’s meaning, painting’s being, painting’s sources, painting’s future, the why of painting. Lecture room filled with the 30 or so residents, plus staff, plus other visitors.
9:15-10:30 p.m. Dinner. Head almost crashes down onto dinner plate from exhaustion.
11:00 p.m. Collapse into bed. Mull over things while falling asleep. There’s a fine lecture series associated with Painting’s Edge, that’s open to the public, and there’s a public exhibition of the artists and critics who visit Painting’s Edge. But Painting’s Edge isn’t really about these things. It’s about what’s happening inside the heads of the painters who come to live here for two weeks each summer. Only about one in three applicants is accepted to the program. These painters want to be in The [Painter’s] Magic Mountain — where time comes to a halt and all that matters is the temperature of painting.