A Land of Contrast

During the month of October of last year, I participated in the second annual artist residency program at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. It was beautiful to reunite with the original pilot group from the inaugural residency in 2020, and to be with good friends for a whole month of creativity and magic.

I made the long trek from LA to Abiquiu, with an overnight in Scottsdale, AZ. I arrived not feeling so hot at the tail end of a seasonal cold, with the altitude only doubling the effects. Then, I lost my car keys and could not unload my stuff until the following morning. That night, I went to bed with a raging headache. I needed a couple days to settle in. When I woke up the following morning, I opened my casita door to a Technicolor world of hypnotic prismatic light.

Like complementary colors on the wheel, Ghost Ranch is a land of visceral contrasts—heat-cold, wind-stillness, dampness-dryness. I set out to paint the sundrenched mesas of red and gold, following the sun on its westward path, where the skies melted in to Turneresque watercolors. It was maddening, such fleeting beauty. As I clumsily manipulated my watercolors, hoping to capture the transcendent beauty of the sunset, disappearing almost as fast as my confidence, I thought to myself, “What’s the point.”

Back at the studio, as I looked at my studies that day, the transcendent nature of these ephemeral experiences would wash over me. I did this again and again, in oil, pastel, and watercolor, and there was always that humbling epiphany. To maintain the freshness of the experience, last year I did pochades from start to finish outdoors and did not mess with them back in the studio. This year, I decided to see if I could develop them further while back in the casita studio. It was a rewarding process and I learned a lot. Ghost Ranch is the perfect place to center myself and expaaaaaaaaaand.

Ryan W., Artists in Residence program participant

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