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New Mexico artist captures Grand Canyon trip in paintings

Marilyn Taylor, center, floats the Colorado River in April 2018 through the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. Taylor painted a series of scenes from her trip. An exhibition featuring the collection is at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park in Farmington. (Courtesy of Marilyn Taylor via AP)

FARMINGTON (AP) – The Grand Canyon is known first and foremost for its enormity, and Farmington artist Marilyn Taylor acknowledges that its sheer size, especially when viewed from the perspective of the rim, can be overwhelming.

But when Taylor chose to paint a series of scenes from her trip down the Colorado River through the canyon in 2018, a collection being featured in a new exhibition at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, it was the little things that caught her eye.

“The Inner Canyon: Rafting Down the Colorado River” is a series of 28 oil paintings that capture the canyon from perspectives large and small.

This April 26, 2018, image provided by Marilyn Taylor shows reflections on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. Taylor painted a series of scenes from photographs that she took while on her trip. An exhibition featuring the collection is open at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park in Farmington. (Courtesy of Marilyn Taylor via AP)

Taylor told the Farmington Daily Times that she already had visited the rim probably 15 times over the course of her life. But when she had a milestone birthday approaching a few years ago, she decided to pull the trigger on a long-held dream and signed up for a 10-day, 276-mile river trip through the canyon on a pontoon boat.

That allowed her to see the canyon from the bottom up, instead of the top down. It also provided her with access to many of its lesser-known charms, especially its plant and animal life that she never could have seen from the rim. Taylor brought along a camera, of course, and captured images from throughout the trip because she said she knew she would want to paint many of the scenes she saw.

But she said it wasn’t until she got back home and started working that she decided to create enough paintings from the trip to make up an entire show.

“It was like I was still in the canyon,” she said of the way she immersed herself in the project over the last few years.

This undated image provided by Marilyn Taylor shows one of her paintings depicting reflections on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. Taylor painted a series of scenes from photographs that she took while on her trip. An exhibition featuring the collection is at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park in Farmington. (Courtesy of Marilyn Taylor via AP)

Taylor originally was scheduled to show the work at the San Juan College Art Gallery. But with that facility still closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she happily accepted an invitation from Farmington Museum Director Bart Wilsey to move the exhibition to that institution.

Most of the paintings in Taylor’s show focus on terra firma, rather than the river itself, and she said her apprehension about the rapids she would encounter on the trip certainly gave her pause.

“I never had a desire to do the rapids,” she said, laughing.

Taylor made the trip in a large pontoon boat, so the experience wasn’t quite as adventurous as it would have been in a normal, smaller raft, she said. At one point, the boat did get lodged between two rocks, but the three women guides who were leading Taylor’s 12-person group quickly got the craft headed in the right direction.

Being on a pontoon boat instead of a raft not only allowed Taylor to feel safer, it afforded her the opportunity to fully take in the beauty of the canyon without being distracted. She marveled at the perfection of the light during certain times of the day and the way the towering canyon walls were reflected in the water.

Her favorite spot in the canyon was at the confluence of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River, she said. She described the water as a stunning aqua blue and said the inflow from the Little Colorado was so warm, she was able to get out of the boat and swim in it, even though it was only April. The confluence also features several waterfalls, she said.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the experience, she said, was the simple pleasure of sleeping outside at night. Like the other members of her group, Taylor had brought along a tent, but found it too warm, even when the sun went down. So she simply curled up in her sleeping bag on the bare ground.

She was almost dissuaded from doing that when another member of the party felt a snake slither across her sleeping bag one night. Taylor vowed to spend the next night in her tent, but later reconsidered.

“I thought, ‘That’s not going to happen two nights in a row,’” she said, chuckling. “What are the chances of that?”

Taylor has been painting for nearly a dozen years, with former Farmington gallery owner and artist Rod Hubble serving as her mentor. She said the most valuable thing he taught her was to trust her instincts as an artist.

“Have a little bit of faith in what you’re doing,” she said he told her. “If it feels right, go for it.”

The two sometimes get together to do plein air paintings, and Taylor said she still tries to emulate Hubble’s approach whenever she can.

“I think he’s more of an intuitive painter,” she said. “He just feels what he’s painting. He’s more analytical, and it shows in his work. There’s a magic to his work. There are a few paintings, I think, where I accomplished that in this show. That was really encouraging.”

Taylor said she enjoys becoming engrossed in the experience of painting.

“When you’re going through rough times, it can take you to another place,” she said. “It gives you time to let that other stuff go away for a while. … I relived my experiences (in the canyon) doing such a variety of paintings from that trip.”