As I type these words I look at the blood vessels running through the back of my hands and fingers bringing oxygen and nutrients necessary for my life to continue. The Snake River Basin is much the same — its vast system of rivers, streams and lakes brings sustenance to one of the most beautiful regions of the United States.
The Snake River Basin stretches from the river’s headwaters in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming to the convergence of the Snake River with the Columbia River in Washington State. It encompasses nearly all of Idaho, a large section of Eastern Oregon, and parts of Washington, Wyoming, and Nevada. It is the drainage system for over two dozen mountain ranges including the Sawtooth, White Cloud, Bitterroot, Teton, Blue, and Owyhee.
There are also over two dozen tributary rivers that flow into the Snake River. These include the Boise, Big Wood, Clearwater, Palouse, Grand Ronde, Malheur, Payette, Weiser, Powder, Salt, and a great waterway in its own right, the Salmon River, the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. Add to this the seemingly countless named and unnamed creeks, springs and lakes and you have one of North America’s most diverse and beautiful areas.
I lived most of my life on the flat lands of northeastern South Dakota. It is a place dominated by the enormous, ever-changing sky above and subtle beauties below. In moving to Idaho I was confronted with a vastly different environment. These paintings were a way to become acquainted with this region.
It was not my purpose to create photographically accurate images of the sites I chose. I filtered my visual experience through my perception, creativity, and skills and offer the viewer an experience of the Snake River Basin through my interpretation.
I traveled to all the sites depicted in this series and did photographic research. To be present with the trees, rivers, mountains, and air of the place was critical to the project. Back in my studio, I used my visual research and experience to create the paintings. The actual place depicted in each painting contains ten, twenty, maybe one hundred times more information than my painting. My goal was to select what I found of most interest in regard to place, color, and pattern. Deciding what to paint and what not to paint — what to edit out and what to emphasize was a primary part of my creative process.
The original paintings are all 11” X 14” on Fabriano Artistico Soft Press 300 pound paper. The painting medium is Golden Fluid Acrylics for the interior sections of the works and Maimeri Metallic Acrylics for the borders. The paper and fluid acrylics were chosen specifically as both are well-suited for both opaque and transparent painting techniques. This fusion of opaque and transparent ways of applying the paint to the paper is something I have been evolving for many years and continue to do so with each painting.
As with many of my projects in past years, this undertaking was a kind of self-education — an education of place. I hope the paintings might also help to reinforce the idea that the Snake River Basin is a great treasure. In the 20th Century this remarkable water system was manipulated and used for power, agriculture and mining. This created many benefits for some of the people of the region, but also caused much damage to the natural system. In the 21st Century my hope is that we preserve what is still here and restore what we can.
Mark W. McGinnis