DESERT INN, BARSTOW~The Anatomy of a Painting


DESERT INN, BARSTOW oil on board 7×9 inches

Soon I will be leaving college with my art degree and I am looking at what’s next. Part of this means I have decided to reboot the Easel Weasel. I will start by posting excerpts from a never-before-seen (!) diary written when I was driving around the U.S. eleven years ago. Each post will be accompanied by a painting and will be published on the anniversary of my visit to the location. I can’t promise it will be hugely exciting but I want to do it and that’s that. I will also be posting other art related posts-reviews, opinions and so forth-to maintain and build on what I have learned in the last few years. As a taster, here’s a piece I wrote about one of my favourite paintings from that trip.


When I decided to take apart my studio a few years ago, as I had reached an impasse with my painting, it felt like the best thing I had done in a long time. It was a while before other things would shift-and boy did they shift-but in the mean time I decided to do spring clean the whole house and hang one or two of my own paintings that had been languishing in boxes.

A couple of them are from an exhibition I had in 2008. Road Trip was based on a month-long solo drive in the United States. I took hundreds of pictures on the trip and when I got home I could see the possibility of making some paintings from them. I did not think anyone would like these pictures, in fact I thought the idea was a bit a bit twee, a bit hackneyed, but I knew I wanted to paint those pictures. I wanted to capture the hurt of being quite alone and also how in the most mundane and unexpected moments there is something like peace.

This one, Desert Inn, Barstow, is my favourite I think. There are many things caught up in it:loneliness, hurt, vastness, sorrow, fear, love, peace. Though it is painted from a photograph and it may seem to be faithful rendition of reality there was a subtle shift that occurred in the painting. I was a week into my trip. I had stayed in camp sites and hostels but this was my first ever motel, an exciting thing for an Irish person whose childhood was spent watching American TV shows. A motel!

I took the photo because I loved the dry folded mountains that faded to purple in the evenings and marvelled at how like they were to our own greener mountains but in the painting of it other things become apparent me. The viewer is in a darkened room looking out into the light, a spectator not a participant. Is it fear that holds her there?Or something else? We see the shadows are lengthening outside as we also see the shadows lengthen in our own lives as we stand in those shadows and wonder how it is that we have missed everything.

The view seems still, calm but then you see the word ‘rage’,(it is of course part of the word ‘Garage’). Underneath the melancholy there is rage. If there is no anger there is no hope, no energy to keep pushing forward on the journey. But this rage it is tightly cornered in its angry red box, still kept in check, not yet given free rein.

There are small,unconscious nods to other parts of me. Lettering is something that is in my genes from my great uncles who carved the letters on the gravestones of the people of Roscrea in Tipperary. I started my own artistic life as a sign writer and so there is lettering and along side the ‘rage’ there is even a ‘Welcome’ from the world outside, maybe it is not such a hostile place after all?

I like old Still Lifes from the Renaissance period, the Memento Mori painted to remind us of our mortality and, though a plastic bottle of water never featured in one, that’s what was in my thoughts when I painted that bottle against a dark background: transparent, barely there in comparison the rich, dusky scene outside. It enhances a sense of being separated from life, of being not quite there. But water is what we are made up of and it is vital in the desert. To go out there without water would surely mean death.

Beside the bottle lies a guide-book , impossible to read, impossible to know where to go next. The hood of the white car outside is my chariot through the desert. Beyond the car is the road and then those ancient wrinkled mountains which were there long before me and will be there long after. Over it all the big, dusty sky fading to night.



3 responses to “DESERT INN, BARSTOW~The Anatomy of a Painting

  1. Oh I love the painting Clare and the water bottle is bonkersly good. That was an adventure I’d have loved so look forward to the rest. Hope you feel happier nowadays though!

  2. Thanks Fraggle R, a lot happier now…Would go back and do it again though…I’m looking forward to going through my diary too..I won’t start until end of April…The 27th I think…Just to get the days right…Oh pedantic me 🙂

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