El Monte Way

Albuquerque, NM
Mixed Media
Sierra Nevada Codex

It was the art classes at a local community college that helped me decipher the Sierra Nevada. In the spring of 2002 I decided to take a drive to the nearby foothills. By this time, I was taking classes that helped me view the world a little differently than before. The drawing and painting courses taught me technical and perceptual artistic skills through direct observation of geometric and organic forms.

Less than a block away from my childhood home in Dinuba, in the Central Valley of California, I turned east down El Monte Way and the air was so clear. Usually, the thick Central Valley haze from industrial farming and vehicle pollution keeps the view shrouded. But on this day, jagged snowcapped peaks and other sculptural rock formations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains punctured the crisp horizon. I had seen this panorama hundreds of time during my life, but in that moment, it astonished me.

Muro Blanco
Intaglio and Lithography

The Kaweah
Intaglio and Lithography

At the time I didn’t know what any of the individual landmarks were called, but I learned later I was looking at the Kaweah Peaks and the Great Western Divide of the Southern Sierra Nevada. I could even see Moro Rock, an enormous dome of granite perhaps forty miles away, just beyond the foothills. As a measure of vertical relief, these mountains tower nearly 14,000 feet above the Central Valley.

That day I became captivated by this view and flabbergasted that I had never noticed it before. I had to get closer. I drove straight toward the mountains, down El Monte Way, but the straight road ended after 8 miles and left me at the base of a large foothill. A man at the base of Stokes Mountain told me, “You’re on private property,” and forced me to turn around. On that day, I didn’t have the chance to walk up and witness an unobstructed view of the highest reaches of the Sierra.

Kaweah Headwaters Valhalla
Mixed Media Drawing

Ever since then I’ve been trying to comprehend and communicate the vastness and complexity of what I saw and perceived that day. That view has been a tremendous source of inspiration in my life and I have carried it in my mind ever since. Eventually, I was granted permission from landowners to explore expansive views and hike throughout the foothills and it compelled me to head into the High Sierra at every chance —to reach those remote peaks and canyons, to inquire about their physical complexity, their history and prehistory, the ecology they support, and the human use and abuse of this palpable place. Unbeknownst to me at first, I was seeing the deepest canyon, the steepest river, the tallest peaks and the biggest trees within the contiguous United States all at the same time on that day when the air was so clear.

Inevitably, I’ve subscribed to and learned about various recreational, cultural, philosophical, ecological, and economic constructs centered on this place while simultaneously questioning how these human constructs have shaped my family’s reason for being there, my embodied connection to this place, and my perceptions of place. My identity and my well-being are defined by this vast system through which I have grown from and am intrinsically and existentially a part of.

Ever since then I’ve been trying to comprehend and communicate the vastness and complexity of what I saw and perceived that day.

Sierra Nevada Codex is a visual record of my cumulative dialogue with the place from which I came—a layered and deep comprehension of a place that continues to grow.

Mineral King
Intaglio and Lithography