What I'm Painting: The Great Saltair

To anyone who knows me, it's no secret that I LOVE Saltair.  Hell, I literally have a shrine to it in my bedroom, complete with huge poster, and artifacts I've fished up from the old site.  I can sit and rattle off any obscure fact you want to know about it (Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their plane over it! A swimmer got arrested for showing her legs at the beach once--this was while it was owned by the LDS church of course...and so on)  I am always down for a visit to the old pilings to anyone I can convince to be dragged along the beach, and the site even gets a name spot in my sidebar, not to mention a spot on my Ten Years in Utah photo list.

But what was it, for those that don't know?  At the turn of the century the Great Salt Lake was considered a marvelous place for recreation.  It probably would be if we'd stop dumping shit into it and ruining it, but I digress--resorts popped up all along the shoreline during the late 19th century.  Saltair was not the lake's first resort, but it was by far her most magnificent.

If you'd like to know the complete resort history (it's a fascinating one, but of course I'm biased) the Bonneville Mariner has a great read about the ghost resort, as well as a great Utah blog in general.  To go into Saltair history here would be another ten entries, in fact with as much as I go on about it, maybe twenty, so let's turn this into an art post instead of a history lesson.

I had intended to paint this for over a year, and I'm not sure what made me finally sit down and do it.  I have been suffering from art block for honestly, four or five years.  When I got out the canvas I had just found out some important personal news (don't worry, I'll share some other time) and I think I wanted that escape, or to put my feelings in paint again.  Whatever the case, it feels like it worked and I actually enjoyed both the process for this as well as the end product.  And that NEVER happens.

My apologies for the rutabaga photo quality.  I get so into painting that I don't like to interrupt myself and take high quality pictures, so low-light phone photos it is...for now.  

So...ever have an idea of a painting and the end result is NOTHING like what you pictured? Yeah...that's what happened here.  I was supposed to do a classic Utah fiery sunset...but the colors didn't seem right.  So I went with way more black and blue than I originally thought.  I also wanted to thin the paint (it's acrylic) with gel medium, but when I got the gel medium out of my car it was frozen solid.  Whoops.  I am way too impatient for thawing, so instead I reached for a nearby spray bottle of what I thought was water.  This worked out great, because it wasn't water, it was alcohol, which seems to be much better on thinning acrylic paint than water itself.  THE MORE YOU KNOW.

Don't ask why I have spray bottles of things I don't know the contents of.  It's a boring story involving cleaning microfiber.

So the base kind of painted itself.  I had no idea where it was going or what I was doing, which is nice.  Once I had this done, I started on the structure.  I used an old postcard I got at the gift shop as a reference.  My goal here was not to create a solid structure--I wanted a "ghost" Saltair that looked as though it had just appeared by moonlight on the now-barren beach, so the first layer was a very pale turquoisey glitter paint (again, SO not where I originally intended to go, but the gel medium was still frozen...) and once I started on the layout it was like painting a familiar face.

It's going to sound super cliche but it's true nonetheless-it felt like I had actually been to Saltair and was painting from memory, rather than the little postcard.  Many, many times during the intricate architectural work I would "go for it" and then look at the reference after, only to see that I had already matched the building...where the windows went, where the ledges were, the positioning of the stairs and latticework.  It was actually kind of unnerving, but then again I have dreams about visiting this place often, and I constantly stare at photos of it, so it's probably burned into a part of my brain that can access minutia anytime.

Since my painting didn't look anything like the mental picture I'd laid out, I did pretty much everything on instinct and what "felt" right.  It seemed a good idea to have one part a bit more "faded in" and realistic and have another part of the resort very dreamy and cloudy, like it was shimmering in and out of reality, as ghosts do.  I can't decide if the structured, detailed side or the more abstract, chaotic side is my favorite. I stare at them both!  My ephemeral ghost resort.

After that it was just detailing, adding in the fog, and ta-da!  One sidenote--the little spikes/pilings/things sticking up at the bottom is a depiction of how the site actually looks now.  There's nothing left but a few stalwart wooden pilings and some twisted metal (and all of the bits of junk I've stolen from the beach) I guess I wanted a reminder of the 'reality' of the resort as well.

Again, sorry for the poor photo quality, but dammit Jim I'm a painter, not a photographer!

Hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of the process.  If paintings are children, then giving birth to this one was the most painless, enjoyable time I've had in awhile! I wish they could all be that way.  Thanks for checking out my favorite place that doesn't exist anymore.

Here's a better lighting quality photo, with my feet included.  Flemith is also hanging around, he got curious about halfway through and decided he was going to watch me from the back of the canvas.  He was not impressed with the painting.

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