Dixon Tribune Article on "Gazing into Infinity"
Artist spends her days "Gazing Into Infinity" Brianna Boyd , Editor
It was a perfect day to paint. With a slight north breeze and sunny sky surrounding her, Colleen Gnos knew Wednesday morning she could not have asked for a better day to work. With a lift raising her and her assorted gallons of paint over 50 feet in the air, Gnos planned to take full advantage of her eight-hour work schedule. Even as semi-trucks and cars sped past on the busy state highway behind her, the 37-year-old Gnos’ focus was on the 46 foot by 32 foot mural she is creating on a wall of one of the buildings housing Inland Terminal, a major fertilizer and distribution plant in Woodland off Highway 113 and Road 18 C. The mural, designed by Gnos as part of a project for Inland Terminal and the city of Woodland, depicts a farmer in his field at sunrise, crouching to the ground and holding dirt tightly in his hand as he looks at the colors covering the morning sky. Wednesday marked Day 14 of Gnos’ work on the mural, “Gazing Into Infinity” – she expects the entire project will take a month to complete – and her focus on this ideal day was painting the farmer’s skin. “I just started painting the skin today,” said Gnos, a Shell Beach resident who grew up in the Dixon community. “When you get up close, it is really red, but I want people to be able to see it from the highway. I want his complexion to be ruddy, like he has spent his lifetime in the sun. We don’t want to have a farmer who has spent his life driving around in an air conditioned truck.” As she does every day she works on the mural, Gnos comes down from her lift every hour or so, and treks the 100 yards to stand near Highway 113, where she can get a clear view of what motorists see when they pass the building everyday. “I look up at it and make mental notes of what changes I need to make,” she explained. “It looks totally different from the highway. The fine lines and soft and subtle blends are invisible from the highway.” Although the farmer’s skin appears to be almost too red while at the foot of the building, Gnos is happy to see as she stands near the highway that the tone she created is perfect. And many people agree. Gnos often pauses in her work to wave to passing motorists who honk their horns as they pass, or stop by Inland Terminal to meet her and see the acrylic painting up close. Gnos said all the attention sometimes makes her feel like a celebrity. But it is also showing her people feel a connection with “Gazing Into Infinity”. This is hard working man connected to his soil, she added, an emotion many people in Woodland, Dixon, and communities throughout this region can relate to while they are working on their own land. “I’ve really enjoyed this project because it is a culmination of my upbringing,” she said. “My dad is a farmer and I grew up as a farmer’s daughter. Every morning in the summer months, I’d get up and go into the fields with him and I’d watch him pick up a handful of soil and smell it. I never knew what he could tell by that soil. Only a farmer would know. They are so in tune with the Earth.” While her father, Herman has roots deep within Dixon’s soil, her mother Lucy’s family is tied to the sea. Gnos said her life is centered around the best of both those worlds. She grew up in Dixon and was involved in 4-H and FFA. She raised swine and chickens in the Dixon May Fair and had her own horse. Gnos, a 1993 Dixon High graduate, said she has always felt so fortunate to have such an agricultural upbringing. Once she graduated from high school though, she knew she was ready for a change. Gnos went on to attend and graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz, where she majored in studio art with an emphasis on painting and drawing. She craves the water, and most of her work is inspired by and in the ocean. She now has her studio in Avila Beach, in San Luis Obispo County, where she specializes in oil paintings, hand-painted surfboards, and Giclee prints and cards. She and her husband, Che Miller, live in nearby Shell Beach, where they are raising their sons, Luke, 8, and Bodhi, 5. Gnos still has a strong connection to Dixon though. Her parents continue to live her, as does her brother, Craig, who farms with his dad. It was Craig Gnos who first heard about the mural project from Inland Terminal and the city of Woodland last December. The family buys fertilizer from Inland Terminal, Gnos explained, and the company heard about the three murals Gnos painted at Dixon’s St. Peter’s Catholic Church in 1999 and wanted to talk to her about their project. Gnos visited the site around Christmas to do measurements and get an idea of the mural size. The building is 130 feet wide and the mural is centered, measuring 65 feet at its highest. Gnos knew the height caused a lot of artists to turn down the project – even her highest painting before now was just 40 feet – but she was ready for the challenge. She created five concept renderings in January to present to the company, each made with a pen and painted with watercolors. One included field furrows receding into the distance, another was an abstract tractor, and a third was a steam generated harvester, with farmers in overalls working and gathering hay. That third drawing and “Gazing Into Infinity” were her favorites. The idea behind “Gazing Into Infinity”, in particular, was inspired by her father and brother and the work they do every day. “Hopefully, this will make people driving by think about and appreciate the beauty around them,” Gnos said. “There is so much agriculture here.” Gnos remembers how excited she was when she found out Inland Terminal selected her rendering for the mural. It has been awhile since she did a mural, she said, and she appreciates how much freedom she has had with this work. She presented a final rendering of the mural in May, a half inch by one foot scale model, and she said she “guards it with her life” when she works from the lift. The mural is being done all in acrylics, and Gnos’ lift is covered in gallon buckets of paint. Altogether, she plans to use 32 gallons of paint. That number may confuse people, she explained, since typically, a gallon of paint can cover 250 sq. ft. But while that makes sense mathematically, it does not always ring true for artistic projects, especially when someone like Gnos loves to mix colors. “It’s an artist’s signature, the colors that they use,” she said. “I have my own palette. I mix my own colors and I have colors I love to work with. That is one thing that is very time consuming about this mural, mixing the colors. Some of my colors may have anywhere from five to nine different colors mixed in with them.” In her Avila Beach studio, Gnos mixes her colors using one paintbrush. For this project, she is mixing two gallons at a time. The sky alone has eight colors, she added, including three oranges, three blues and a white transition. She loves that the mural is being painted on a west facing wall. The sun rises directly behind the building and every morning as she paints, she feels as though the building is almost like a window. The majestic of it all fits perfectly with her mural. Gnos has been able to see a lot of sunrises in recent weeks. She wakes up every morning at 3:30 a.m. and is on the lift painting by 5 a.m. She works eight hours each day, until about 1:15 p.m., because once the sun hits the building, the heat and glare make it too difficult to paint. People may be surprised to know in these warm summer months that the heat is not the only challenging element. The wind and cold have been her biggest obstacles. “I’ve been vandalized by the wind,” she said, pointing to the canopy her husband created that has been damaged because of strong night winds. “The wind gets crazy out here. There is nothing to protect you and it just comes howling through. It is stronger the higher up you go, so I try to work on the higher areas early in the morning.” At first, the wind made her nervous when she was on the lift. She can remember gripping the sides so tight the first few days she went up to paint. Now, she said with a laugh, she can paint balancing on one foot. She prides herself on having an impressionistic style. She is rarely realistic in her paintings because she said she finds that boring. Instead of re-creating what could be a photograph, Gnos said she likes to turn it into a piece of art. Looking up at her mural, she said it also tells an inspiring story. “This is a hard working man,” she said. “I think he appreciates the natural beauty and his connection to the Earth.”