Carlson, Fading Twilight, 2016
If George Carlson had been keeping field notes in his shirt pocket — hand scrawled in pencil, referencing variations in color, tone, value, light and pattern — his method when hiking solo into the “channeled scablands” of the Pacific Northwest — the morning in question, which unfolded from the doorway of his red Swedish-style farmhouse in Idaho, might have been described like this:
5:30 am: Carlson, by habit, has risen like a crepuscular animal. Suffusing the indoor human space behind him is another Invention by J.S. Bach. Ahead, as he steps outside, an advancing sun, still dim, seeping forward into a sky holding a muted moon. The twilight fills rapidly with live dulcet birdsong, amping up slowly to mezzo-forte; whitetail deer, closer and pensive, have just emerged from the backwoods; farther out, an elk mother and her yearling extend the sightline into middle ground; the wapiti, holding cautious in profile, are well aware, as Carlson is, of mountain lion and bear presence, the cryptic big cats and bruins never far away, though for now, unseen.
The Bach piano piece flows through Carlson, spilling out toward a distant horizon as he interprets what he absorbs. Fading night has not yet yielded to morning; the artist’s cultivated space is edged by real tooth and claw wildness; tranquility is charged with expectation.
Carlson is listening to the composer and translating sonic notes into his own repertoire, visual ideas gelling in his head. He is too humble to draw a direct parallel between himself and Bach, though if an outsider delves deeper, pressing Carlson, one soon discovers that the same kind of structure Bach mastered in classical music informs Carlson’s approach to composition.
At age 68, nine years ago, Carlson returned to his original love — painting — four-and-a-half decades after he had become sidetracked by sculpture and acclaimed for it, believing his diversionary foray into three dimensions wouldn’t last as long as it did.