How a San Francisco Cityscape Artist Experiences Marrakech
I wear black all the time. It’s a silly quirk from my days of being a punk/ goth/ metalhead too droll for anything else. That may make some surprised when they realize I’m actually obsessed with color, and I keenly observe it wherever I go. As a San Francisco cityscape artist I find myself walking around the city and imagining all that I see as an oil painting. The details become blotches of color in my mind, a mixture between impressionism and realism. But I never have been more appreciative of color until being in Morocco. There, it is both subtle and loud, and it flows between the two with seamless ease.
The Importance of Color
There’s no solid rule with oil painting, and whether it’s abstract, impressionism, surrealism, dada, realism, or a countless number of other styles, artists begin breaking down the subject to basic elements. For me, that entails color. Often times the first few stages of my pieces appear as abstract sections of different hues. As the painting progresses, details become more refined, edges become crisper, and viewers begin to recognize what the subject is. Realism for me is a process, and color helps shape it. Becoming a San Francisco cityscape artist has helped me with this method of painting. Cityscapes have so much detail in them that the only way an artist can approach such a complicated subject is to to break it down. Start general, and with time, hone in with a greater variety of colors to bring out details. Morocco’s palette is very rich, and while there I imagined how my method of painting would work for capturing such a visually potent country.
So, Just How Does a San Francisco Cityscape Artist Experience Marrakech?
I was in Marrakech just a few days ago. One of my favorite things I did while there was to sit in a tea shop and watch people. Perhaps its rude of me, but I like to stare at everyone that passes by while I sip my drink, take a picture now and then, or sketch out an archway across the way. If you've ever been in Morocco you'll know the type of tea that I'd be drinking, hot mint tea, overly sweet, and very strong. It's not like the Moroccan mint tea you'd find in the states, or at least I haven't found it. It's a heavy concoction that is as strong as coffee in my opinion. I did a lot of watching while sitting in these little tea shops.
The alleyway outside of the guesthouse I was staying in was narrow with old stone walls, an old stone pathway, and ornate doors that led to people's homes. Every door seemed unique and made from a combination of wood and metal. There were no standard designs and each entryway stood as testaments to the personalities of the people living behind them. Though you couldn't see beyond the front door, you would know that they sheltered a home that was comfortable. Down the side alley there were newborn kittens sleeping through the heat of the day. Their mother, a one eyed and mangy street cat, lounged near by growling whenever anyone approached. Though she was a scrappy and unfriendly little thing, I still left her some yogurt thinking she needed some nutrition. As I walked down this alleyway towards the main street children ran past me. There were often children playing outside of my guesthouse. One became excited when I showed him the drawing I did of his front door. That day I was walking away from the main square in search of a new place to sit and have lunch, drink a tea, and watch all the people. I didn't have to walk for long to find several places, but it still took me awhile to find the right place. The spot I was looking for needed to have a particular vantage point facing the street and in with a good flow of traffic. I bought a light meal of köfte, fries, a small salad, and, of course, mint tea for after.
Marrakech is made of the same rust red that makes up the landscape of the surrounding area. It is a raw color, one that holds no reflections and melts into the black of the dark alleyways. The rust red is the background tone and all the shops and stalls stand out in the foreground. Silver jewelry studded with gems, intricate lacquered wood boxes, unnaturally colored clothes, and ornate metal wrought lamps jump out against the canvas that’s Marrakech. These are only a handful of things that accentuate, rather than cover up, the surrounding environment. Even the smells of food scream out, “Rust Red!” I noticed the color even as I was flying into the city. Upon descent I noticed that the desert landscape was stained with this color and almost as if by magic, buildings started cropping up out of the sand until one saw an intricate web of structures all emerging from the ocean of rust red. It was a city that spawned life from barrenness. But the city’s color was also oppressive. It seemed to sink into my being as water absorbing into paper. It left a stain underneath the freshly painted marks, and filled me with a complexity of emotions much like the city itself. The colors were striking and demanding, and I felt that in order to catch the realism of Marrakech, an artist would need to imbue the same rust red within every piece, from cityscapes to portraits. The tone would be saturated in the the brightest blues, starkest whites, and deepest blacks. It would permeate throughout the composition and scream out “Rust Red!”
I never felt completely at home in Marrakech, though I did feel fascinated with everything that I saw. Being a San Francisco cityscape artist and a commission portrait artist, I observed both the streets and the people. I tried to keep my eyes and my mind as open as possible so I could collect my moments throughout my stay there. Though the intensity I felt from the people and off the streets will haunt my images much as it haunted my dreams, I look forward to painting all that I saw.
Marrakech… I loved and hated you…
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