These raw-edged canvases are 15 to 30 square feet of textured abstraction
in southwestern landscape colors, swoops and daubs of local gold, green, blue,
orange and brown. Her pictures have literal geographic names: Flagstaff, Grand
Mesa, Government Springs. But they are landscapes only in an unusual sense
of the word. For Remington, land is the easel, palette and pigment rather
than a visual subject. The physical content of her pictures really is earth,
dug from (or near) the place furnishing a picture's title. After getting to
know an area, she lays unprimed, unstretched canvas out on the ground to receive
gluey swatches of mud, sand and crushed rock that she mixes and applies by
hand or with weeds or branches.
Another unusual characteristic of her work is that one canvas can suggest,
simultaneously, huge things seen from huge distances or small things much
magnified. Remington earth paintings celebrate patterns of nature: river beds
or mountain ranges seen from ten miles up, a canyon's geology, anatomy of
a trout jaw, an amoeba extending a pseudopod, DNA structure. But rather than
aiming for recognition, Remington's work provokes reflection. Instead of showing
what any sojourner could see, her paintings invite viewers to experience a
response to a place. Think of Rothko (spiritual majesty) meets O'Keefe (commitment
to locality). "In the particular lies the universal," wrote the poet William
Carlos Williams. Maggie Remington paints universals out of particulars.
The logistics are daunting: first, a portable studio, adaptable for sustained
travel and camping where climate, geology and topography permit long hours
of sweaty activity in the open air and access to usable soils. When Remington
paints in National Forests, she hauls in earth colors from well beyond forest
boundaries. Besides bulky rolls of raw canvas, she has to stow tools for digging,
crunching and mixing -- and store new work which, till cured, may need extra
space. Her finished pieces have the consistency of tanned hides. She stacks
and rolls them together in bundles two or three times as heavy as what she
Even more daunting is the discipline of six months a year alone on the road,
hiking, messing around with dirt and spending hours bent over a bedspread-sized
piece of cloth on the ground. Yet this is a woman who never had an art class
in school or college, whose formal education and first career were in business
and executive level finance,-- and who only two years ago cleared her decks
for art by selling everything except family heirlooms she could talk people
What got her into this? An unusual childhood, awareness that she would "always
end up in beautiful places," and post-divorce dreams. Maggie grew up as a
"general Motors kid" in Sao Paulo, Brazil; went to high school in Hanover,
New Hampshire, (a "good place for a divorced woman [her mother] to raise five
kids; before she earned a business degree at a small Catholic women's college
near Washington DC. As soon as she could, she was off to work in San Francisco.
Then came marriage, a child, increasingly responsible jobs, and moves to Arizona
and back to California. Her own divorce, she says, "opened up me to me."
Involved in this opening up were travel (around the world, all national parks
in western USA) and dreams of using only her hands and earth to make mammoth
murals. Spiritual searching, including intense study of Native American cultures,
led to a fascination with Indian sand painting. And then--about time!--a non-credit
evening beginning watercolor class. ("As close as I could get to finger painting
for grownups.") Other adult ed art courses and some fine coincidences later,
she had a mentor, an emotional homeplace, and a compulsion to start a new
life. A German artist whose works resembled Maggie's earlier dreams helped
stabilize her earth-paint-making technology; a managerial mortgage banking
position brought Maggie to Telluride. By the spring of 1998, Maggie says,
"the urge to work with earth was driving me nuts," and she began preparing
for her first odyssey.
In six months she drove over eleven thousand miles from Colorado through Mexico,
stopping many places to reflect and paint--where friends lived, beside the
road, in towns, along freeways. Getting good dirt ("earth is everywhere")
or permission to work on what looked like private property seemed to happen
naturally. She'd knock on a door, and found "most people very interested and
cooperative." Probably none of these helpful people knew they were dealing
with and up-and-coming Remington barely begun on what's bound to be an important
body of work. Yes: through her paternal grandmother, Maggie is a descendant
twice related to famed western sculptor Frederick Remington.
Late in July 2000, Maggie returned to her Ridgeway home base barely in time
to apply for a space in that town's prestigious Arts and Crafts Rendezvous.
With a borrowed tent and six of her earliest earth paintings--in her first
ever exhibit--she won one of the show's six prizes, for "most unusual entry."
More of her work now hangs in a gallery near Santa Barbara, and she has been
invited to join the Women's Environmental Art Association.