The lost baja notes
The “Baja Notes” weren’t really lost, but I did discover a few more of them, recently, on my camera’s SD card that I’d forgotten about.
So what are the Baja Notes? I often refer to sketches as notes, although sometimes they do end up as a fully realized work. These small works are from my bicycle ride through Baja and Mexico.
At the time, I thought I was being a little silly for going to so much effort to carry art materials with me on my bicycle. I mean, who cares about a ~six-inch scribble made in a dusty Mexican hotel room or on the side of a road before it gets too dark to see anymore? But obviously, I did! And now, looking back, I’m glad I did, and I wish I’d continued them for the entire journey.
I worked on three different series over the time I carried art materials with me: Ephemerals, Baja Notes, and On the Horizon. The Ephemerals were more of a finished work than the Baja Notes, and named “ephemeral” because I didn’t keep any of the works (from any of the series–they all got destroyed and thrown out, except for one ephemeral which I sold and mailed back to the states). The “on the horizon” series were more of a concept than a sketch, a focal point for me to expand my view of the horizon.
I’ve included a few collages of images from Baja, below, to add context to the work.
I painted the first few ephemerals while still in Arizona. My cycle tour started right from my driveway. Our neighbor came by to see us off and we headed out just before sunset, just in time to get in a few miles before cowboy camping in the dirt (right after passing a tarantula). We rode south along the mountains towards the Mexican border. We intentionally stayed as close to the border as public roads allowed us, all the way from our place in Arizona until we crossed the border in California into Tecate, Mexico.
Our first road near the Mexican border was “Ruby Road”, a sort of famous road in southern Arizona. From there we travelled across the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, making a brief stop in the border town of Sassabe, then taking a small dirt road through the Pozo Verde Mountains, down into Presimido Canyon, past the old ghost town of Presimido, and onto the border road right next to the border fence. We spent the next several days riding through deep sand across the Tohono O’odham Nation land before turning onto the famous “Devil’s Highway”, El Camino del Diablo.
We exited the Devil’s highway at Yuma and detoured north to visit Salvation Mountain and Slab City in California. I waved at the Salton Sea as we weaved our way out of the Imperial Valley and made our way to Carrizo Gorge. From here we took an old abandoned railroad back south to the Mexican border. Our last night in the U.S. was spent in a dilapidated, old, stone building that looked like it had been there since the days when this was still Mexico (I say this mostly because all the doorways were really short and the floors were dirt).
Baja was super amazing. The weather was so perfect that we only set up our tent a handful of times. Our route took us through beautiful forests of Cirio (boojam tree, related to Ocotillo), back and forth from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of California, and all the way down to loop the peninsula. We saw old Spanish missions and church’s, rode through remote villages, drank locally made wine, and ate a lot of avocados, tomatoes, beans, and peanuts. I got to climb the two Baja state Highpoints, Picacho del Diablo and Sierra la Laguna. I saw baby turtles make their way into the ocean. And I got asked how much my bike cost more times than I was comfortable with.
By the time I’d ridden part way down Baja I’d ditched most of my art supplies. I was down to just a few colors, my sketchbook, a few 6” tiles, two brushes, and 1 ounce of black paint. When you ride your bicycle all day, everyday, on dirt roads and trails through the mountains, every single thing weighs you down. And if it doesn’t feed you or keep you warm, you’ll probably ditch it.
I painted the last few Ephemerals in southern Mexico, on the last of the paper I’d been carrying with me. By this time I had ditched the rest of my art supplies, except for the two brushes, one pencil and one piece of charcoal, so the color and most of the marks were made with eyeliner, instant coffee, and a piece of fresh green grass.
THE BAJA NOTES
I was midway through Baja when I made the first of the Baja Notes. We spent thanksgiving on a beautiful beach, on the Bahía Concepcíon, south of Mulegé. I was transfixed by the deep blue water, and finally had a few days to decompress. They were all very fast sketches, but I just wanted to get some gestures out and think about what all this was that I was doing.
ON THE HORIZON
I was well into mainland Mexico before I started this project. After Baja I had stopped making little paintings, and really only had a few sheets of paper left anyway.
I wasn’t sure, when I started this series where it would lead, but teeny tiny paintings, although an interesting test of making small compositions, weren’t really satisfying my artistic needs, and carrying, even a small amount of supplies, as minimalist as they were, added too much weight and bulk to my bike. I’m much more drawn to large (minimum four feet or preferably larger) canvases. Little surfaces lack the necessary space to create a window …a window to bigger worlds, inner and outer selves/worlds. So I decided to see where small squares of color held on the horizon, using the landscape as the larger canvas, might lead my creative search of self and place, and the deeper connection of consciousness, in this big beautiful world.
My last work in this series, if you can call a blank sheet of paper work, was this white sheet of paper held against the horizon in Malinalco, Mexico. This little blank paper had a sort of speechless quality to it for me, and yet it said so much about how what I was experiencing and seeing on this journey was so far from the world I know, that I didn’t even really have an internal map to process it all. And that was it; I felt that the process of this series had run its course. I may revisit the idea behind this series again in the future, but for such a simple project, I got a lot out of it.
Looking back on it now, it’s the most conceptually interesting of the three series I worked on during this adventure. I may pick up where I left off with it the next time I do another minimalist adventure.
All in all, I’m happy with the sketches I produced on this ride.
See more of my work at: onnavoellmer.com and follow me on Instagram at: onnavoellmer for the most recent updates of my work.