What fascinates me how is the earth, in the various forms of its landscape and stones, assumes different Material and color qualities, how the variegated layers tell stories about the creation of the earth, about the conditions under which peopie live in different parts of the earth, as well as the interplay between climatic zones and vegetation. The quality of the earth determines the quality of the landscape. It is a contributory factor for the architecture that people construct in the respective landscapes. In addition, the earth provides the basis for the production of colors, with which man develops his image of the world. In mysticism too and among all peoples the earth is assigned a particular significance: earth is primary materials, conveyor of energy; earth means beginning and end.
In remote places on the Colorado Plateau, Ulrike Arnold, a German artist of international renown, creates works on canvas that convey a journalistic record and a sense of place, using not words but the materials at hand: the earth itself, the stuff of which the landscape around her is made. She creates her works on site, out of doors, and they capture with remarkable power a great deal about the place that surrounds her as she works.Working on a piece of canvas which may be twenty feet long and six feet wide, Ulrike lays down colors that are not pigments but bits of soil, earth, Sand, mud, and crushed rock". I try to get the essence of a place," she says, and there is much detail in her painting. Her works have to do with color, but Ulrike also captures the structure and texture of the land where she paints. "It's all a matter of scale, you know; there is little in the big, and big in the little." She is inspired by the structure of the rocks, or the surface of a tree, all of the patterns and textures of nature which are, in themselves, abstract images to most of us.Ulrike Arnold's approach is an emotional rather than an intellectual one. And while her works effectively convey a sense of place, they are impressionistic and personal. Like written journals, they reveal as much about the person who creates them as they do about the place in which they are created.Ulrike calls herself an "earth artist" or "earth painter," apt descriptions of the style in which she has worked for nearly twenty years. Born in Dusseldorf, she came to her craft first as a teacher of music and art. Most of her early creative work was done in pencil. She was drawn to the shadows of gray, the lines, the absence of artificial color. Then in 1980 she traveled to Provence, in France, where she visited the red ochre pits near Roussillion. It was a turning point in her life. She returned to her studio in Wuppertal with a small bit of that red earth.
Today Ulrike works entirely without a studio, and without artificial pigments. She has worked throughout the world, on every continent, often traveling alone, drawn to landscapes of startling beauty. She has worked in Algeria, Madagascar, Iceland, Armenia, and Australia, in the Canary Islands, and throughout the American Southwest. As she explores a new place, she asks, 'What happened here thousands of years ago? Who lived here?" Her connection is not only with landscape but with the cultural heritage of the land, or as she calls it, "the spiritual meaning of landscape." Ulrike puts it most eloquently when she says, "Here must have been something special."
The most excltlng place Ulrike ever worked was Ruby Gorge, in central Australia. In that remote place on her birthday in 1987, camping alone for the first time in her life, she transferred her feelings of fear, anxiety, joy, and excitement to the canvas. For herworks, like most creative works of music or literature, are an outlet for loneliness, pain, suffering, and joy. No one who knows Ulrike or her work can doubt that joy is the predominant emotion.
Like the landscape itself, Ulrike's works are untitled and unframed, bearing only the names of the geographic locations where they were created and from which their earth paints derived. They are on display in galleries and museums throughout the world, the heavy, textured canvases loosely suspended from walls or spread horizontally on gallery floors.
In june 1999 Ulrike will exhibit at the Ludwigforum in Aachen, Germany. The show focuses on the relationship between nature and culture and will feature earth paintings of some twenty artists. For this venue Ulrike is preparing seven pieces, each twenty feet long and five feet wide. Each painting represents a separate location in the American Southwest, including San Francisco Wash, near Flagstaff, Bisbee, Arizona; the Burr Trall in Utah; Luna Mesa, near Capitol Reef National Park, Utah; Galisteo, New Mexico; and Guadalupe Ranch, in southern New Mexico.
In North America, Ulrike's work will be on display in August 1999 at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art in Logan, Utah. There her works will be shown along with those of Mario Reis, a German artist who works with water. Ulrike feels strongly that her works are more than mode of expression for the artist, more than a journal of her own feelings. They are done as a kind of mission, to inspire the viewer with feelings similar to those which she herself feels in places of overwhelming beauty. Viewers of her work will sometimes exclaim, "Can these colors be real, do they really exist in nature?" And Ulrike is delighted with the written comments she receives along these lines: "You have opened my eyes to see the earth differently." Like the journals of Dave Edwards, Ulrike's works are meant for others to read.Since 1991 Ulrike has experirmented with painting directly on rock surfaces, first at the Crestone Zen Monastery in Colorado, later at the Christ in the Desert Monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico, always on private land and only by invitation. Inspired by prehistoric rock art she has seen throughout the world, Ulrike feels her own earth works are places of "homage to creation, to nature." These works, sometimes carefully hidden in alcoves or niches, are always executed with a sensitivity to both the land and the people. She studiously avoids public land and sacred places. Like all her works, these works are created using only the natural materials she finds on site. Ulrike hopes that her works invite a new vision of both the ordinary and the extraordinary, that they foster a sense of caring and stewardship toward the places they celebrate. They are her response to those places throughout the world where the landscape is so remarkable, so startling, that words fail most of us in our attempts at description. Language will not serve us in our attempt to convey the power and glory of these places. The Colorado Plateau is one such place, and Ulrike Arnold has proven herself equal to that task, creating works that are an inspriation to all of us lucky enough to know them.
by L. Greer Price orginally appeared in Plateau Journal magazine, puplished jointly by Grand Canyon Assoction and the Museum of Northern Arizona