“The mission of the Atlas Cultural Foundation is to help underserved Moroccans, especially women and children, and improve their quality of life through locally determined development projects.” – Cloe Erickson, Founder
“The people are living exactly they way they have for hundreds and hundreds of years. Stone houses, sheep, goats, a very marginal existence. They are agricultural, but it’s extremely sparse terrain. You can’t truly realize how lush and beautiful it is here until you visit places like these.” – Jackson Artist Erin C. O’Connor
Even the briefest of visits to the Morocco-based Atlas Cultural Foundation will take your breath away. People, music, swirling rainbows of cloth, smiling children, the purity of souls, laughter, donkeys loaded with grains making their way up steep mountainsides on paths as wide as piece of thread, stone houses seemingly impossible to build…African light on high cliffs, solitary townspeople under tents, illuminated by candlelight.
“These villages,” says plein air painter Erin O’Connor, “are in the High Atlas Mountains, in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a dirt road that probably should have ended 60 miles before it does. It’s unimaginable. The area was the last place for the French Foreign Legion to access, it is so remote.”
Recently O’Connor and a colleague landed the chance to go to Morocco, visit the Atlas Mountains and spend time in the ancient city of Medina, as part of an Atlas awareness-raising initiative. A Montana patron with a strong interest in the organization’s mission financed the trip. O’Connor’s paintings and works by other artists will be offered for sale on February 6th, at a private event in Bozeman, Montana.
“I’d always wanted to go to Morocco. EVERYTHING there is art: the wrought iron on the windows, the tile work, the architecture, the doors, I wanted to paint it all,” says O’Connor. “This opportunity came up, andI had to say ‘yes.’ It was serendipitous. The funny thing is, I have always considered myself a plein air landscape painter, but being in Marrakesh, in the oldest part the Medina, 8,ooo years old, it was all small alley ways, souks (marketplaces), so many people in such a small place. I was forced to paint in really tight corners! I had two jobs every day: one was to go out and prove just how much my French sucks and the other was to get lost! You go through humbly.”
O’Connor began her trek in the Medina, where she spent almost a week on her own, painting. One day she found herself wedged up in a small souk corner, people pushing by her in huge throngs, very intense for a solitary outdoor artist.
“A woman approached me, speaking in Arabic; I don’t understand Arabic! She looked at my painting of a spice merchant. She stood on top of me, in my lap, almost—- there’s a whole different sense of space there! She looks at the painting and the spices—she realized I didn’t understand her, so she just reached over and took my paintbrush! On the box beneath my painting she did her own little painting of a burlap bag with spices in it! She handed the paintbrush back and walked away! She just had to show me how it was done! That little painting will always be on my box,” relates O’Connor.
It was likely the first time that woman held a paintbrush. School children, transfixed, watched O’Connor for hours, sometimes offering suggestions in French. O’Connor sometimes handed them a brush to show them where a certain color should appear. And nobody, says the artist, tried to make off with anything.
Up in the mountains, each village had an “ighrem,” tall granary structures made of adobe, stone or brick. Whatever can be harvested is stored there, as are deceased village saints. Summertime nomads, welcomed visitors, are given shelter there. Villages, schools and ighrems are underequipped and in horrible states of disrepair. Atlas contributes money and manpower to restore them. Nothing is culturally or architecturally compromised.
“I was forced to paint in situations that normally I’d think ‘no way,’ says O’Connor. “When we arrived at the village it was so beautiful and amazing. But the great inspiration for me were those street scenes; I’ve been really pushing myself. I’ve painted cats now! Never before! I put figures in my work, and I’m not a figurative painter; I painted fish, that’s a first! The entire experience has been deeply inspiring and transformative.”
Altamira Fine Art presents new work by Travis Walker, in a show entitled “Everything In Its Right Place.” Exhibition dates are February 12 – 22nd, 2014, and an opening reception takes place Saturday, February 15th, 5-7:00 pm at the gallery.
Walker’s first Altamira show sold out ~~~ he’s been featured in Southwest Art Magazine, and this show is likely to do just as well. Size-wise, there’s something for everyone. Walker’s smaller canvases can sparkle like jewels.
Says the gallery:
“Working almost exclusively in oil, Walker continues his exploration of surreal landscape scenes based in the Jackson area. Familiar motifs such as whitewater river trip buses, Snow King Mountain, paragliders, and hay bales will make appearances. The exhibit will include 10 small works featuring vintage campers.” www.altamiraart.com
Fellow Campers: I’m away for a bit; I’ll be posting again later in the month! Thanks so much for reading! TC