making rock art.

From here to up there.

Here, begins with a journey – a personal journey. Maybe your journey, definitely my journey. A hike, a walk, gardening, working the land, excavating. Because of their abundance, most of us glance over rocks and take them for granted. Some people have made it their pastime and maybe even made a living out of sorting the gemstones from the others. But, to find a rock that can be used in a piece of art is rare. It takes many discards to get to the keepers, and when you do find the keepers, well, they are often so heterogeneous that they in themselves cannot be placed together. So, to create one rock picture, it takes thousands of rocks. Picking up what the glaciers left behind, or what man has unearthed. Or, what earth herself has unearthed. It's about you, discovering a rock.  

 

Or, maybe it is finding you? That is the journey. Is it too big? Cracked? Just right? Is it of the quality that you would love to admire for a long time? Can it be placed and admired upon a wooden canvas? This standard is hard to meet –  probably less than one percent – one out of a hundred. That's where the up there part of the journey comes to be – from rock to rock art.

Once you collect the rocks that are keepers, you have to prepare them – thousands of them. They must be cleaned and drilled, which takes a different skill set from finding them. While a few rocks are soft, most require special (and costly) drill bits attached to a powerful drill press that will work in conjunction with water. Since the bits need continuous water flow to keep them from burning up, most all the drilling is done in murky water by feel rather than sight. The water heated by the friction of the underwater bit needs several re-fresheners.

Of the thousands of rocks drilled, about ten percent don't make it. Rocks are very brittle and sometimes they crack or are too stubborn to be drilled. Those that do make it go through the laborious process of attaching a screw, sized to hold a heavy rock. After couple day curing process, the rocks can be sealed. There are a couple reasons for sealing a rock but the main one is that in most cases wet rocks are much more expressive than dry ones. Those rocks are sealed in high gloss, and in those situations where softness is preferred (e.g. clouds) a satin seal is applied. The art rocks of the future are sorted by color and filed away, waiting for the right piece and the right canvas or boxed frame.

 

The boxes are highly specialized, so we build them ourselves. The rocks need a canvas thick enough to anchor their metal shafts and interesting enough to anchor their viewer's attention, and a back is added to shield the sharp points of the screws. The raw wood boxes are painted before assembly, and we take great care to highlight beautiful southwestern colors, each chosen to complement a particular set of rocks, or to even interplay with them – never distract.

As the artwork is assembled, rocks are carefully muscled into the board, taken out, then refitted, put back in the bin, and then squeezed into tight areas that are painful to finish. This process can be hard on the rocks and another ten percent does not make this cut, either. Sometimes a critical rock malfunctions and finding a replacement can take weeks, if not months.

Some of the art shown here is specific to the canvas it was assembled on. Others can be removed from their box and assembled directly onto a wall. However you choose to display it, you can be sure that your edition is an original with a unique collection of rocks. Each rock took a special journey to your canvas. And as you can see, a rock is…well, a rock is not just a rock – if it makes it to your artwork, that is.

My rock art can be customized by size, color and shape and created on a canvas, box or wall. Maybe you have a favorite set you've collected along the way. Your choice. Your journey.

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© 2020 by Brian Thomas, Abiquiú Art Gallery