Artist on a Harley:

There’s Something About Moab

“The Wall” Original painting by Mike Simpson

[Western Colorado | April 2020 | By Mike Simpson]

Moab. Red rock country. Canyonlands. Love it.

Moab and the surrounding red rock country offers this artist a wonderful respite from the evergreen of Colorado. Not to take anything away from the beautiful winter grays in Colorado nor the summer wildflowers or the golden fall aspen show in Colorado. It’s just that the Moab and surrounding area offers…well, a different kind of attraction.

Of course Moab is getting loved to death and it is getting increasingly hard to find quiet, secluded areas to camp and paint but with a little perseverance…it can be done. I know of a couple spots that offer that rare combination of solitude and views worthy of a National Geographic coffee table book.

Oddly enough, there is only one art gallery in Moab. It’s a co-op artist gallery with mostly local artists displaying their varied interpretations of the red rock landscape. I’ve had a couple paintings in it as a result of my participation in the Moab Red Rock Arts Festival plein air painting competition the first part of October.

Fortunately for us, Moab is just a short hop, skip, and jump away from us here on the Western Slope of Colorado. It’s a favorite day-ride for us on the Harley to go to Moab for lunch, completing the ride by coming back via La Sal Junction and Paradox.

Of course, right now, with Utah limited out-of-state travelers do to the Covid Crisis, we’re limiting our enjoyment of Moab to paint on canvas rather than tires on the road. But when the restrictions are lifted, we’ll be touring again.

So, for now, since I can’t visit and paint plein air, I’m painting from memory and photographs. But both are still very vivid. For me as an artist, the appeal of the Moab area is all of the red rock formations and the huge variety of lighting on the shapes. When it comes right down to it, regardless of the subject matter, the artist is most concerned with the conditions of lighting. That’s what we paint, the effect of light.

“Moab.” Original painting by Mike Simpson.

The violet-colored shadows cast upon and mould the burnt sienna surface of the sun-bathed red rock shapes. It’s almost sensuous and most appealing. The green cottonwoods of spring and summer juxtaposing the complimentary reds of rock and soil, then turning yellow and golden in the fall. Oh, so wonderfully beautiful! Eye candy.

It can be a challenge to capture the color correctly. Artists flood the area trying. The area is a magnet for photographers as well. In fact, you’ll probably see more cameras clicking away than paint brushes slinging paint. Everybody has a camera. Everybody is a photographer.

If you get off the beaten trails and explore some of the quieter secluded areas, especially up into the La Sals or off into the canyon lands, it’s pretty easy to come across a grave or maybe several in a small cemetery. A reminder of those who struggled to find a life in the remotes of these lands. It all adds up to the mystery and appeal of Moab.

The history of Moab is colorful and varied. I’ll leave that to others who know it well. I have a hard time getting past the beauty of it all. When the rabbit brush blooms in late summer and early fall, another ingredient is added to the recipe. The striking yellows of the chamise with the golden blossoms of sage and the dried golden grasses have all been subjects along with the red rock canyon walls, hoodoos and arches.

There’s just something about Moab!

Thanks for tuning in; maybe I’ll see you in Moab when we’re back on the road again.

I’m Mike Simpson

Artist on a Harley