Visual

Deep Terrain

The snowscapes of Evan Whitehead

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ever since humans figured out how to draw and paint, mountains have served as muse for artists all over the world.

In striving to evoke the vibrantly rustic countryside of southwestern France, Post-Impressionist master Paul Cezanne developed an indefatigable infatuation with Mont Sainte Victoire—a hulking, 11-mile-long limestone massif that lorded over the surrounding villages, vineyards and olive groves with commanding presence. He called it a beau motif (beautiful motif) and wound up painting it more than 60 times throughout his remarkable career.

When Georgia O’Keefe wasn’t busy evoking the minute androgynous details of orchids and calla lilies, she set her sights on capturing the stark, basaltic grandeur of a 9,300-foot-high mesa that loomed like a gigantic tabletop just across the valley from her studio in the high desert of northern New Mexico. 

“God told me if I painted it often enough I could have it,” the mother of American landscape painters once said of her beloved Cerra Pedernal (Flint Hill). And, true to to her word, she managed to commit the thing to canvas 28 times from various perspectives (most famously, through the sockets of abstracted animal bones). When she passed away in 1986, her ashes were spread on its summit.

Renowned edo-period printmaker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) endeavored to express his lifelong fascination with Japan’s signature strata volcano by laboring to produce a panoramic series of color woodblock prints called “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,” which reveal the massive conical presence of his favorite subject through a circumambient array of seasonal and topographic viewpoints. Featured most prominently among this veritable postcard rack’s worth of landscapes, lakescapes and villagescapes is one of the most famous and singularly expressive seascapes of all time, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” 

Not long ago, while attempting to refresh one of my spare traveler growlers at Chuckanut Brewery, I was happy to stumble upon the work of a current mountain-loving painter who appears to have dedicated his operative oeuvre expressly to evoking the otherworldly cloud-born splendor that seasonally suffuses the terrain on and around our own axis mundi, Mt. Baker.     

The artist’s name is Evan Whitehead, and even if you aren’t familiar with his name, chances are good you’ve beheld—or at least caught a glimpse of—one of his many conspicuously transcendent snowscapes that frequently grace the walls at an ever-expanding list of art-friendly eateries up and down the Bellingham-542 corridor.

That very same corridor, in fact, just so happens to be the subject of the first Whitehead painting I ever laid eyes on: a vigorously elongated bird’s-eye view of Mt. Baker called “The Raven’s Road” that simultaneously managed to freeze me in my tracks and whisk me away on an incredible journey. 

One second I was lumbering through the tap room toward the Kolsch refilling station and the next, I was effortlessly up in the air gliding appreciably eastward over the darkened tree tops straight toward the bright, snowy face of Komo Kulshan.    

Although I can’t guarantee you’ll take flight on Raven’s wings while perusing the latest batch of Whitehead’s paintings on display inside Chuckanut Brewery, there’s more than a good chance that you’ll find yourself being drawn ever-deeper into the shapely, ever-transformative presence of pow-pow land in the North Cascades.        

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