Painting: WILD BUNCH, Alpine Sunflowers, oil on canvas
Left Alpine Sunflower DetailSPACERCenter Alpine Sunflower DetailSPACERRight Alpine Sunflower Detail

Exhibited at Aspen Art Museum (with some of the works reproduced herein) in 2001, Wild Bunch, 12" X 16" oil on canvas, is Alpine Sunflowers at 12,500 feet (Wilderness) near Aspen, Colorado.  How they came to be recreated is here related.  The painting is the result of 12 consecutive days living out-of-doors.  On the sixth day of this particular excursion, I approached the top of a glorious mountain pass.  Having stopped to draw some flowers of another sort, a few hours elapsed before lunch.  A further climb lead to a beautiful lake, host this day to such a crosswind to look as much like an ocean as a lake.  Here were alpine flowers red, purple, yellow, white and pink, arranged as nature had seen fit.  That composition would become

Painting: TAO, Alpine Flowers, Rocky Mountain, oil on canvas
Tao, exhibited at Aspen Art Museum (with some of the works reproduced herein) in 2003, 24" X 36" oil on canvas.

Astounding saturation and intensity are as rare as the thin air when ascending the heights in the Colorado Rockies.  The stunning aspect of these flowers, in my opinion, is that the delicate beauty and fortitude they exude occur in serene, yet hostile environs where a human can stand minutes at best without becoming accutely aware of the perils at hand.

Climbing alongside the alpine lake, a wall of wind whipped through the channel between adjacent peaks.  A couple of snow field crossings later (frosted water slides into the icy lake below and no wood to burn to ward off hypothermia), I beheld that which was to become Wild Bunch.  However, the wind was disconcerting, daylight growing shorter and lightheadedness a natural state at the altitude, so I was undecided, while taken aback.  Was this portent or painting?  The specter of this growth of sunflowers evoked remembrance of van Gogh's arrangements en vase, something I would be unlikely to do, not having the same sensitivity.  As the wind chaffed the sunflowers, my next consideration, given the conditions was, "It's too much a rip off to paint it."  I climbed up over the pass to the leeward side where the air was warm and the downhill flow inviting.

Unable to dismiss this striking composition, I circled to seek out the sunflowers from the opposite route, taking six more days to get back.  On the 11th day, lightning caused me to descend into inhospitable terrain which would include another astonishing site the next day.  Twenty feet from where I negotiated my way into yet another boulder field was an exceedingly rare, all-white bighorn sheep.  As I stared to capture details to sketch later, it occured to me it might require playing matador, in case this miracle spooked and decided to charge.  How to exit this steep rock forest only a bighorn would find comfortable was next.

For six days, I wondered how I could possibly locate this unusual set of sunflowers in an endless field full of sunflowers.  As I mounted that part of the pass where one sees over the top, I paused, and to my own surprise, pointed my right hand directly at the very flowers that were to become Wild Bunch, 180 feet distant, but plain as day.  This moment was worth the 12 days out, with six months following, painting Wild Bunch.    -Michael Salvator