When one drives through the Badlands or the Gila wilderness at night, one keeps company with the stars. They are never more visible, never more primary, and never more operatic. There are no street lights or buildings or ambient lights to interfere with their radiance.
Crazy Horse loved sleeping out under the stars, as did the poet Li-Po in China, 1200 years earlier. Both men had a communion with nature that is best described as spiritual. The poet, Li-Po, would be reduced to tears at the sight of the constellations. Crazy Horse wore three hailstones painted on his forehead because he believed they were of the stars.
They guide us and move us to poetry and song and paint and dance.
Years ago I did an Artist in Residence in Missoula, Montana. They put me up in a Double Tree Suites place right next to the Bitterroot River. It was early winter/late-autumn and the colors were muted, russety reds, ochres, firey yellows, as well as plum-colored leaves that were as furiously sad as a Guy Clark song. It woke me to the idea of making work rooted in nature. This was kind of a new idea to me. I’d always drawn birds, but never the land itself. Some of my favorite art were Charles Burchfield’s watercolors, Arthur Dove’s bloody suns, John Marin’s scratchy and earthy mountain-scapes and the sublimely lovely Marsden Hartley paintings. But until then I’d never seen myself as being able to cobble together works about nature.
While I was staying there, the woman at the hotel desk informed me that at four the next morning there would be a meteor shower, and if I’d like to see it, she’d give me a wake-up call and I could walk out next to the river and witness one of nature’s most amazing light-shows. True to her word, she woke me up at 3:30 and I made some coffee. . .
I walked out to the river with five or six other guests and watched–and was astonished. The stars and comets were dancing a ferocious dervish in the black sky. I thought it’d be one or two shooting stars; this was the sky moving like amphetamine-laced neon light. I’d never seen anything like it. I had the thought that I knew what people meant when they said the stars spoke to them.
These thoughts loomed large in my head when I thought about the work I’d been making about Crazy Horse and the monument still being carved out of Thunder Mountain to “honor” him.
I thought that the greatest, and most resonant monument one could build for him is already there; the stars, the river. . .the mountain itself.
It is hard to imagine what shooting stars would have meant to someone so attuned to nature, as he was. To Crazy Horse, the sun was the Almighty; and one did not curse the rain or the hail or the blinding white winter. It was nature, and this combination of forces, or spirits and the Creator were all the same thing.
On my way back from L.A., me and my pal, Stan, drove through Apache, Navajo, Hopi, Cherokee and Blackfeet land.
This thought is not hard to believe crossing the Black Mesa and the high desert. It is unforgiving and thorny, beautiful, fierce, spiky and haunted. It is a land of shooting stars, thick poisonous snakes, abandoned towns and absolutely no mercy.