One of those wildernesses is on land belonging to Ron and Mare Peterson, on Hastings Mesa, where Sudeith is creating two petroglyphs, one featuring “contemporary technology – planes, balloons, satellites, a space shuttle,” and the other showing “local imagery – deer, elk, sheep, pickups, jeeps, and mounted riders.”
Sudeith describes his work – carving and then replicating those carvings on paper – as “a formal art argument about the history of form in painting and sculpture, and the development of spacial illusion,” by first creating and then replicating the space of the carving.
“I paint the carved stone, and then I impress the paper onto the stone,” says the artist, capturing “not just the physical space of the carving, but also taking the ink off the stone.” It’s a low-tech printing technique he describes as “a weird hybrid between woodcut and intaglio.”
The heavily embossed prints of the carvings, which range from one-fourth to one-eighth of an inch in depth, have captured “the physical space of the three-dimensional carvings.”
Sudeith’s fascination with petroglyphs began as a boy, canoeing in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, which soon led to his discovery of “pictographs of moose and canoes and Xs” painted into the rocks along the lakes, all carefully recorded in a journal.
“I’ve been an artist my whole life,” he says, studying everything from pottery in high school to drawing, egg tempura painting and gouache in college and graduate school. His rockwork began slowly, with “some charcoal drawings on rock faces, seven or eight years ago, on private property.
“I’ve done some charcoal drawings on sandstone over the years,” he said, “and it kind of percolated” into what he’s doing today.
Soon, he had learned that “pictographs, or cave painting, have to be in a space protected from the elements, such as a cave or severe overhang.
“To make a cave painting, it either has to be in a cave, or protected, or on a kind of severe overhang that keeps the water off it,” he explains. Carvings, he learned from his study of petroglyphs, from mostly the Fremont and Anasazi periods, “are not colored at all” – although, he confesses, “I don't know if they were colored when they were made.”
Earlier relics, however – “the Barrier Canyon stuff – are all painted,” he reports. They didn’t do any carving.
Possibly the only artist creating petroglyphs today, Sudeith says, of his worksites: “I work only by invitation.”
His work kicked into high gear in the middle of last year, after he “decided I needed to go on the road and do this.” To that end, he packed up his life in New York City, began calling “everyone I knew with land.”
Sudeith soon found himself on Hastings Mesa as the guest the Petersons.
“In New York,” he deadpans, “there are very limited opportunities for the petroglyphist.” Of his fascination with petroglyphs, Sudeith says: “I think in a way it’s their contention with nature – their inner engagement with what nature represents,” and their exterior vulnerability to nature’s vagaries.
And while his petroglyphs today document relatively high-tech industries – oil frac’ing and agribusiness in North Dakota; sheep- and horse-ranching and elk-hunting in Colorado (and all the attendant vehicles) – his work ultimately suggests that more things change, the more they stay the same.
“In some sense,” Sudeith says, his modern-day petroglyphs have much in common with their centuries-old counterparts, in that their ultimate message, he suggests, “is about our contention with nature.”
Today, for example: “You can’t make a carving of a hamburger and have it mean anything to anybody,” he says. But take “food imagery – a traditional subject of petroglyphs,” only in this case supplanting arrows and spears with images “of combines and trains hauling grain,” and a modern-day chronicling of how we live is spun.
Sudeith plans to return to Hastings Mesa next summer. “I hope to come back to work on the carvings some more, and develop my portfolio.
“I hope it’s warmer weather next year.”