Monday, November 19, 2012

Climbing Into Art

Submitted by Tim Karst

Nature, fresh air, physical challenge, and camaraderie with like-minded enthusiasts are only a few reasons why I constantly hunger for my next climbing adventure. It's been a part of my life for the past thirty years. I guess I could be considered an experienced climber, but please don't earmark me as a master - a premature senior, yes, but not a master. Some may call me an old school climber, others Long Stockings; but I like to think of myself as an artist.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an artist as "a follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice." I follow; I pursue; I study, and I practice; so by all rights, I think of myself as an artist. I'm not an artist as in the sense of Michelangelo who chiseled Carrara marble. I might drill into granite with a barrowed drill to place a new bolt, but restructuring the actual stone is not on my top ten list. Perhaps, I am more of a performance artist? Whether leading, laybacking, jamming, or stemming, it could be considered an interactive dance with the rock; or it could just be the best way I can pull myself up the route before my arms tank.

However, I do find myself making the analogy to art since my wife, Barb, of twenty-six years is a professional painter. I can't help but sometimes see the world through her vision. She doesn't care if a climb is rated 5.11 or 5.8 as long as I am safe while climbing it or if it looks "pretty" in the morning sunshine. So, alas, this past year she was on a quest to paint a large acrylic of me completing a lead climb in Mill Creek. Together, we scoured through my countless climbing shots on our computer. Barb, trying to nail down the perfect photo, made the search a little trying. This one was out of focus or had not enough color or was too far away or was not the right angle or she couldn't see the gear or I was wearing drab colors, etc., until all at once an epiphany hit Barb and she found her muse. The problem was, it wasn't me. It was Ken Turley. Now an insecure man might be rattled by this gesture and start hitting the gym more often to pump up his biceps. But no, I stood my ground, and accepted the fact that my wife was going to paint an image of me modeled after Ken or perhaps superimpose my head on Ken's body. So the quest began.

Ken - Sinks Canyon
One day last December, while climbing with Dane Scott, Brian Quilter, and Carlene Quilter in Mill Creek, I asked Dane if he would take some pictures of me leading "Witness the Tickness." However, the picture couldn't be the stereotypical butt shot from the ground up. No, it had to be a profile shot, just like the one I originally took of Ken. In order to do this correctly, Dane had to climb halfway up the adjacent route, harness himself into position, stabilize the camera, and conduct a series of profile shots of me sending "Witness the Tickness". Even the best photographers who shoot for Climbing Magazine would have been proud of Dane's fearless task. After the deed was done, I thanked him profusely and headed home with a digital card full of me...wearing profile...not too far the perfect angle.

Brian and Tim - Witness the Tickness
It was like Christmas morning, opening those photos in Photoshop, each one popping open like a child's wide eyes while unwrapping their holiday gifts. But when the last one was opened, there was suddenly a crushing realization there were no more gifts to be had. "Is that it?" remarked Barb. Just to fill you in, Ken's climbing style is controlled and powerful, always in balance. I use long leverages and extreme reaches to gain purchase. So, while Ken's picture was cropped tight and fills the entire frame of the picture plane, my climbing picture looked more like Stretch Armstrong. "Well, I guess I'll have to superimpose the legs on this picture onto that picture, beef up the color, take out the backpack, change the hands, tilt the head, etc.," Barb pronounced. I knew I was in for some intimate hours with my computer.

At last, we had a picture that captured her vision of me climbing. All was right in her world and mine; "happy wife, happy life." Barb started painting the four foot by two foot acrylic of me in early January of 2012; and after three-hundred hours of easel time, she finished it in mid-March. The painting was shipped off to New York City and was shown in a gallery on 5th Avenue in June. If you want to see the blood, sweat, and tears up close and personal, the painting, Face to Face, is now hung on the wall, with a plethora of Barb's other painstaking grid paintings, at the Women's Care Center, located on the 3rd floor in St. Pat's Hospital. It will be displayed until the end of December 2012.

So, yes, I would say climbing is like art. It takes time to develop, to constantly try to perfect (though we all know that is an unrealistic goal). It's the blood that courses through my veins. I find solace in it. Just like Barb with her painting, I climb because I must.

Face to Face
Acrylic on Gessoed Wood Panel
2012 (c)
Barb Schwarz Karst
Acquire at

"Face to Face depicts my husband climbing a rock wall in the Bitterroot Mountain Range. Tim's hunger for climbing was evident when I started dating him thirty years ago. Even though this biographical painting is liberal with its approach to color and symbolism designed to entice the art viewer, it is also loaded with accuracies concerning the gear to please any technical climber that might gaze upon my artistic, non-climber, interpretation of the sport. The title, Face to Face, not only refers to Tim physically turned toward the granite's surface or face; but it also refers to confronting fears, head-on." --Barb Schwarz Karst