Shelley McCarl

I was born in Michigan and grew up in the Midwest and the Southeast, with shorter stints in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and in the East Village in NY. I met my Oregonian husband, Robert, while attending the University of South Carolina in Columbia. After graduating, marrying, and having our first baby, Rob, we moved to Boise, Idaho. We’ve lived in Idaho since then, raising our boys (Rob and Max), as well as our not-very-bright dog, Keesha. I had never encountered the desert before we moved to Idaho, and I still remember quite vividly how astonishing it seemed to me that we could drive for days through an unending sea of sagebrush…how enormous the sky seemed, with no trees to enclose the landscape…how clear and sharp far-distant mountains seemed, with no humidity to blur the edges. Daunting, to say the least. (I was delighted, however, to discover that tumbleweeds actually tumble across the road, all by themselves! My vision of “the West”was formed in childhood by TV shows like Roy Rogers and Bonanza, and I think I’d assumed that tumbleweeds were artfully tossed in front of the camera as Hoss and Little Joe came ridin’ into town.) I’ve lived in Idaho now for nearly half of my life, but aridity still seems somewhat unnatural to me, and I find myself , especially in August, pining for a good towering thunderstorm. It took me awhile to appreciate the ‘high desert’, which is all of southern Idaho, and on into Utah, Wyoming, Montana, parts of Oregon–just a huge chunk of land, with few people and hardly any real green. The beauty in this vast landscape is, for me, all found in the light. I spent so much of my life in the subtropical Southeast that I didn’t realize the way light changes throughout the seasons in more northern climates. Now I know that there’s no point in looking for landscapes to paint in August (or really any time over the summer), but by October, the autumn light will transform everything. My whole motivation for painting Idaho landscapes is the light, and in exploring the way that fleeting effects of light and atmosphere can transform bleak and barren into richly-colored patterns of light and shadow. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Idaho desert; I don’t know if I’d have become sensitized to light on the landscape if I had not had to look hard and long for a way to understand this seemingly-inhospitable place. I realize now that I need to love the land where I live, in order to paint it–or perhaps it’s that I need to paint the land where I live in order to learn to love it.

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