Martha Tuttle, Constellations I drew in Nevada

Installation Views | Works | Press Release

The paintings in Constellations I drew in Nevada emerged from drawings I made of the night sky during an artist residency in the Great Basin Desert (in rural Nevada) in 2019.  I did not have access to the internet or phone service, so the clusters I drew were stars I imagined to be in relation to one another, rather than mythological or historical groupings. 

Everywhere in the Great Basin is a scattering of stone, of petrified wood, of bleached animal bones.  The sculptures of stone and glass throughout this exhibition relate to the desert ground, the paintings to the night sky. 

The following is a diary entry from that time: 

August 29th, 2020, The Montello Foundation, Nevada

Quite an eventful night last night.  A windstorm blew though this stretch of basin rattling the house and making a significant racket.  The anxiety of the night made me quite sure it would blow the wildfires right to my door.  But it the morning, everything was as it was. 

This morning, virga, all around.  I can’t remember- is sepulcher the smell of rain before it comes?  I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty, what it is, how it translates into physical form.  I feel most beautiful when I soften, let go of expectations, let go of the rigid boundary between myself and the world.  The most beautiful things, I believe, can appear to be ugly with only a short twist of light.  I think this is because they are a responsive to, intertwined with the world they breath in. 

In the desert one’s boundaries dissolve.  Loneliness is not so much of an issue because one becomes also dust, also light.  Everything passes through you all the time.  High altitude deserts near mountains- this is my home.  How can I construct a life where I can always come back here? 

Here, I confuse my heartbeat with the sound of an approaching truck.  I collect rocks and they slip through my overladen hands- everywhere a treasure.   The counters of mountains are like the curves and dips of a body- the grasses droop and leave semi-circle drawings when the wind blows them.  A desert of brutality is not the desert that I have known. 

Yesterday, I saw a square rainbow held in a pocket of a cloud.  I made dye from juniper berries and an old mordant recipe using juniper needle ash.  I sat with what I didn’t know.  I drew constellations in the sky and looked for their counterparts in the holes dug by insects and animals in the ground.  I find myself more and more trusting the land, listening to the wind.  I rub sage between my hands and breath in.  The words from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley play over and over again in my head- “the desert has mothered magical things”. 

When I dream, I dream of people When I dream, I dream of people I have known.