“Painted Steps” is the mediation of my experience of walking the Camino.
I found myself getting stuck in the mud of “purple prose” trying to write descriptions of the delights of walking the Camino. Then I remembered. This is not the story of walking the Camino. This is the story of the making of a painting about walking the Camino.
Transformation / mediation,telling the truth creates fiction. Truth is discovered through relationship not isolation.
So I will tell you why I chose, and how I painted in, Milano Real, the Red Kite, Cometa Roja. In the days before I saw the Kites I had been walking through narrow wooded valleys, on dirt paths, along brooks and streams. I hiked down steep stony ridges, on loose rock, eyes on the bony trail, watching every step, looking down.
But in the stretch between Zubiri and Larrasoaña the tricky footwork eased and the landscape opened up into rich rolling velvety green farmland. The big blue sky was alive with gusting winds and soaring birds of prey.
Walking up and down with the roll of the hills I looked up at the underbellies of the huge raptors close overhead,and then as they swooped into the valleys I looked down to see their dark elegant profiles from above. Dizzying! Exhilarating! (I’m glad I’m not a small furry creature!)
Of course I started snapping shot after (bad) shot with my phone camera, trying to capture their exuberance. The results were blurry dots nowhere approaching the splendour of the real. But after I gave up, I was rewarded with an amazing experience. There was a golden flash just above my head as the giant Red Kite caught the sunlight, swooped and flashed at me, the very image of a magnificent mythical raptor. What an honour!
The image stayed with me and is going into the painting.
On the crest of one hill there was a park billboard with the silhouettes identifying the various bird types and naming them in Latin, Spanish and Basque/ Euskera: Milvus milvus, Milano Real, Milano Benetako. In English it’s Red Kite. I like the literal translation Cometa Roja, in reference to the long streaming tail of the bird. (Roja=red, cometa Latin root as in (celestial) comet).
I identified my bird with the help of that info/signage and photos. The descriptions from the internet described the place as the perfect habitat: rolling hills, pasture land for sheep, ( the brebis Basque), dairy cows, horses, farms, and, tucked in the folds, farm buildings, thickets and fording streams. Lots of habitat for little creatures, lots of food for raptors.
The Study As practice for painting Red Kite/Cometa Roja directly into the ground of Painted Steps,(PS) I made some studies. They are on grey Rives 270gsm, torn down from 30 x 40”(approx). It has a similar weight, absorption and colour to the Somerset green/grey of PS.
Milvus milvus, Milano Real, Milano Benetako, Cometa Roja, Red Kite
In the study I can use background paint to make big changes in the shape of the bird. Here I covered over the wing shape in (sky) blue in my attempt to figure out the wing angles. This over-painting is not possible when painting directly onto the already defined background of P.S. I have to get it right!
This time rather than ‘finishing’ the study, I worked it just enough to get the gist of the image, leaving the ‘mistakes’ as is. I had figured out what to do next time, once painting directly onto PS. This process worked well for Cometa Roja. I am able to paint loosely- The image is not a solid opaque block, but is made of quite loosely knitted brushstrokes, giving the image an airy feeling. (even a bit of the background green is seen through the image)
I doubt that I would have been able to paint so easily the ubiquitous and (literally) iconic bald eagle. Living in Victoria BC, I’ve seen so many representations of the eagle, it’s difficult to see it clearly as a creature. It is of the Americas and particularly of the north west coast. I’m aware of its rich cultural baggage. The mythologies colour my perceptions.
The Kite, the Milvus milvus however, is a creature foreign to my imagination. Unlike other birds I loved to see along the Camino I have no nursery stories of it. It’s a piece of European culture that I have no associations with. It is a European and North African bird.
Somehow this blank makes me aware of how my mind carries so many European stories. I know that the stork, la cigueña, carries babies, that magpies, las urracus, bring sorrow or joy.
Being in Europe, in Spain, I am becoming more aware of how much European culture I carry, and that I don’t often recognize it as foreign. I am of the Americas. I am colonized/ colonizer. They do say travel expands the mind!
The idea that creatures teach us humans is perhaps in all cultures, so.....
Thank you, Red Kite Cometa Roja Milano Real with your streaming cosmic tail!
Addendum In my search for information about the Kite, I got a glimpse of the enormous world of birding, the amateur devotees, bird identifiers and eco-tourism around birding.
“Its common name in English, Red Kite (cometa roja), is in reference to the shape and colour of its tail which helps it realize its characteristic acrobatic flight.” Su nombre común en inglés es “red kite” (cometa roja), y hace referencia a la forma y color de su cola, de la que se ayuda para realizar sus característicos vuelos acrobáticos.
“The red kite is an elegant bird, soaring on long wings held at a dihedral and long forked tail, twisting as it changes direction. The body, upper tail and wing coverts are rufous. (red).” They can be longer than 2 feet with a six foot wing span.