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My first car was a silver Toyota Tercel wagon that at one point had a particularly galling malfunction... It simply would not reverse. Aside from the embarrassment that defect presented, it made a tricky situation for me while I saved up for the eventual repair since I'd still have to use the thing to get around. So I did what any young man in my situation would do, I learned not to put myself in predicaments where I'd have to go backwards. After a season of looking like a total idiot in a car that wouldn't reverse, I saved my meager wages and the vehicle was brought back to health, and I went back to looking like an idiot for other reasons.

It's a healthy thing to go back when you need to, and going back in order to make something better is a good thing.

During our cold winter months I've been less than enthusiastic about blowing away in the desert in various plein air efforts and have started to correct some pieces that I've come to the conclusion aren't quite done yet. All Saints Gather was a little oil that I'd released on my site months ago. The piece wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I wanted it to be. On that cool night I was a long way out from any light, and had walked up a sandy hill to where a white cross stood fairly far from the road, seeming more like a grave marker than a monument for passers by. The place was pitch dark, and while not yet freezing the air wasn't exactly balmy. The distant range beyond the cross wasn't much darker than the sky, almost blurring into it. It was a greasy blue and the hard line I'd painted just wasn't even close. The more I stared at the painting I'd produced the more it didn't "feel" like what I'd experienced in that sandy clearing, and the space between what I'd created and what I remembered of the place started to suggest it was time to go back ready to close the gap. So I shortened the arms of the cross which on reflection weren't quite accurate. The warmer, brighter tones of the image didn't convey the cool tone of that place. The dim light was more fearful. The mountains were more obscure, the sky darker with stars that hinted at more color in the way some stars do. Even staring at that scene for 10 minutes was like glancing quickly at something and remembering very little of it... and there it was. I'd been more concerned in the first round with recreating what was there, not what I'd been most impacted by in that moment.

J.M.W. Turner once said "My business is to paint what I see, not what I know is there." - which in that moment I'd neglected. Thankfully, I now have a functional reverse when I need one, and I'm happy to say I find no shame in it. So with that, hopefully you'll like All Saints Gather, a now finished piece.

All Saints Gather - Oil on Canvas 9x12 - Available

By the way, if you've got a little bit of time to fill your eyes with beauty, you may want to check out the work of Mr. Turner here. I can't wait to go see his work again in London, once things get back to normal. Until then, I'll be out painting. Damian

An 80mph windstorm took out our power for an evening this last week, leaving our valley in pitch darkness. My first response was to sit and look at my phone, but thankfully a light came on in my dim dome as it occurred to me to venture out and get some photos of my neighborhood in the dark.

Light pollution map of California

Everything here in Southern California, and I mean absolutely everything, is so smothered in light that I may not get another chance like this for a decade. We've got street lights, Shop lights, headlights, helicopter lights, neon lights, fanny by gaslight... all of it. Experts call it light pollution, which to anyone in Southern California seems like a perfect name for it, because if you want total dark, you're gonna need to get a sleep mask, blackout curtains, a bottle of whiskey and a condo full of sheep to count. Besides, it's a nice accompaniment to the noise pollution and all the other kinds of pollution we have. Why do anything halfway right?

Darkness Falls on Casa de Kinsella - facing the darker high desert

I kissed my wife and headed out through dark, driving into the neighboring San Fernando Valley, specifically the town of Sylmar. It was there I found myself passing through a group of police officers with shotguns drawn advancing through the street around my car... what they were busy doing, I didn't ask and they didn't say (also didn't tell said wife about that part). I zipped through dark intersections until I found a donut shop at the twinkling edge of the city, grabbed a maple bar and a coffee and headed back into the dark.

The view from home - facing the light pollution from LA

Returning back home my newly darkened neighborhood reminded me both of places I've seen where either the very poor or the very rich lived. I've been in remote impoverished areas in pitch black nights, once in a jungle, other times in deserts where there was no light at night, just wind blowing through palm trees. I've also been where people could afford to escape floodlights and freeway noise with the kind of money that buys you a good distance from your mailbox. In all of these locations, nature takes the forefront, with varying degrees of intentionality. It seems like everyone in the middle has a lot of freeway noise and light pollution to deal with.

People spend a lot of money to get away from the not so friendly glow of the city, to unplug and to find rest. The dark is good for your body and your mind, providing a much needed reset. When we fear the dark it's because we lose the ability to define, the control to have everything around us marked and numbered. The belief that we have things pinned down in the light of day is an illusion, but it's an illusion we hold dear. I don't have to see everything around me in the night and most times I can rest in the experience. The profound sense of rest in the nights is one reason I'm out there. I can't see all, but I can still know it's seen. We could all use more peace, and you can get that even when the lights are out. I'll be out painting. Damian

Thanksgiving weekend kicked off as I shook off the tryptophan haze and headed for the desert with my buddy Leif. Our first stop was what's left of a place called Garlock, see the gouache on paper called "A Going Concern" below. I don't want to disparage it, but it's less than prime real estate. Next up we headed to Ballarat, which even in it's heyday wasn't exactly jumping, now it's got a general store and the crumbling ruins of exactly two structures. In other words it's God knows where and only God knows why anyone would go... so you can see how I couldn't resist a visit in the full moon.

The first thing we came across at the end of a 2 mile washboard road was the ruin of a schoolhouse jailhouse courthouse that isn't decent habitation for the jackasses that were lumbering around in the dark on the perimeter of where we were... actual hee haw jackasses, you know, big ears and whatnot.

Following that we backtracked to the turnoff for the Trona Pinnacles, which I think everyone should experience at least once, and in the full moonlight if you can. It's a weird world, mysterious and interesting. Besides, you're not likely doing much for a while and it's anything but crowded out there.

Trona Pinnacles by moonlight

Randsburg / Johannesburg Cemetary on a very cold night

As we were out there freezing and lining up shots for me to paint later, Leif spotted something darting around in the dark on the edge of the shadows of the pinnacles. First one, then another. Turns out kit foxes were running around out in the gloom. For one thing I'm impressed anything could survive out there, event the residents of the town of Trona nearby.

Midnight came and went and we hit up the graveyard above Randsburg, which was quite peaceful. I was reminded of Ireland, where every town has at it's core a church surrounded by graves of citizens long since passed. There the reminder that life is short and that we have a mark to make while we're here is ever present, and it's a gift to take times like this to venture out and see what's around us. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. I'll be out painting. Damian

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