Over the past few weeks I have been working out the different elements for a painting to be titled Storm and Stone. This title came to me before any image of the piece appeared in my brain housing group (Marinespeak for one's brain). Normally I create a piece and name it afterwards..
In the early part of May of 2005 I went out on a "presence patrol" with the re-inforced 3rd Platoon of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. This jaunt, commanded by 2nd Lt. Weiss, was destined for the foothills of the Tora Bora Mountains. We left Jalalabad, Afghanistan under a broad expanse of perfect blue on May 6th and headed towards a particularly spectacular place on the border with Pakistan called Wazir Pass. Our primary mission was to scout alternative pathways into and around this rugged tribal region for an upcoming operation.
Navigating these roads, if you could even call them that, was a bone jarring kidney stone loosening torture session. We crisscrossed innumerable Afghan arroyos swelled and churning with the pell mell rush of the spring melt. These deeply rutted paths were lined with small groves of mulberry trees, walls of dry stacked river rocks, and pungent onion fields. Majestic snow crowned peaks in the distance seemed to neither retreat nor get any closer as we held on for dear life inside or in back of scraped and dusty HUMVEEs. As we finally approached Wazir Pass a broad stoney plain opened up offering us a unimpeded view of the mountains. Our still bumpy drive now rose gradually up through minefields marked by white washed cairns of boulders, and then onto terraced wheatfields that eventually led into the narrow winding streets of ancient villages nestled in the very folds of the Tora Boras. Small orange butterflies fluttered everywhere across the stones and green fingers of ripening wheat.
We set up a patrol base overlooking a checkerboard of fields, adobe homes and walled family compounds called the village of Khogyani. Slingshot armed Afghan boys sheparding their small flocks of goats, sheep and donkeys meandered out to recon us as we dug in and prepped for our first night out under the stars. With a borrowed entrenching tool I excavated a position for myself and then turned my attention to sketching. In the bright mid-afternoon sun I produced two watercolors and managed to sunburn my hands to a nice shade of lobster red.
Around 0300 a storm of Biblical proportions rolled over us. I had dug myself a decent fighting hole and was stretched out cocooned in my sleeping bag and pivy sack when the sky exploded with a deluge of rain and lightning. Even through the zipped up and velcroed security of my little womb I was awakened by flashes of light and assault of rain drops the size of a cat's paw. Several groups of Marines and Afghan soldiers found themselves, as the initial edge of the storm pushed through, tumbling head over heals in tents uprooted and rolled by the cyclonic winds. Hunkered down in my one-man fighting hole I merely found myself awash as it filled quickly with several inches of rainwater. The storm departed as quick as it had arrived, and in the inky blackness soaked and cursing Marines stumbled about righting tents and nursing minor bruises.
With the dawn of May 7th two words were etched into my mind, storm and stone.
I often work from photographs for finished pieces. For Storm and Stone I'm combining several different scenes and sets of individuals into one composite design. Here are the basic set of initial sketches and the first wedding of images into an overall scene.
The final painting will hopefully resonate not only with my personal experience, but also echo the work of a great American artist of our Southwest, Maynard Dixon in who's "simplified realism" imagery I find inspiration for rendering heroic figures in wide open storm swept spaces.