During their years as nomadic climbers, Amee Hinkley and Renan Ozturk carried an unusual form of survival equipment. Packed in their bags, with food, shelter and climbing gear, were art supplies.
The couple roamed the globe together for half a decade, living from a car for long stretches and changing crags with the seasons. When they weren’t clinging to a cliff face, they painted.
“On our rest days we wouldn’t have anything to do, so we’d go sit in some field, in front of El Capitan or some other mountain, and paint,” Amee said. “It’s about being in the moment, relaying the emotions from an experience outdoors and capturing those feelings that will fade over time.”
Their exuberant landscape paintings are now being exhibited together for the first time in a show titled INterACTION at the CCAH Gallery in Carbondale, Colorado. The exhibit, which runs until early May and is associated with 5Point Film Festival, juxtaposes the couples’ artistic interpretations of the places they visited and their distinct styles and ways of making art.
While both work in mixed media, using anything from watercolors to Sharpie pens, the deeper connection between their work stems from a shared fascination with vast and dramatic landscapes.
The pair first met in 2003, while climbing in Joshua Tree National Park in California, and started dating a couple of years later. Both had finished college and opted to live as itinerant climbers instead of following conventional career tracks. For the next five years they followed “the circuit,” as climbers call it, spending warm months in Yosemite and wintering in the desert or in mountainous countries like Nepal and Thailand.
Amee arrived on the climbing scene with some formal arts education from high school and college. Renan took up art after college, teaching himself to draw and paint between climbs. “My friends from school dropped me off in the middle of a rain storm in the southern Canyonlands of Utah with all my climbing gear,” he said. “It was the real beginning of art for me. The wide open, layered landscape really drove my motivation initially to create art as well as climb.”
Initially, he painted on construction paper or cardboard he found in dumpsters. He has since progressed to working on genuine painter’s canvases that he can roll up and stuff in a backpack along with his rope and climbing gear. More recently he produces films from his expeditions. “These forms of expression are usually connected to some kind of first ascent climbing experience,” he said. “It’s where the emotion comes from, being there and not in a walled studio looking at photo.”
His paintings are impressionistic, often filled with crisply rendered mountains against vast swirling skies, yet they convey a precise correspondence to the topography of the Himalayas, Bugaboos, Sierras and other great ranges where he’s climbed. The finely detailed crags in his renderings reverberate with his obsession with the nuances of rock faces.
Amee attributes the expressive quality found in both their work to their shared passion for the outdoors. “We both use a bright color palette,” she said, “and I think those colors represent how happy we are when we’re out.”
In contrast to Renan, who only paints in the field, Amee tends complete her works in a studio, based on field sketches and memory. “It’s not only about capturing a landscape the way you see it with your eyes,” she said. “My painting are more like psychological landscapes that are conveyed through abstract landscapes. I feel like there was an emotion I’ve had in my pocket and now I can finally release it.”
Her favorite place to climb and paint is Utah’s Moab desert, where the pair once lived for six months. “It’s the vastness of it,” she said, “the space that is there. Even though you have cliffs you’re not a prisoner to any wall like you might be in Yosemite. It seems more wild. You don’t run into many people and it’s really quite. I feel more and I have more time to be introverted. A lot of my paintings are very desert-like.”
In Amee’s work, the details of the landscape are abstracted away to make room for an airy sense of space and perspective. Stripes of colors often covey the sweep of the landscape, evoking layers of sedimentary rock and the breadth of geological time. Sharply contrasting lines tend to converge, drawing the viewer towards distant horizons.
“I’m really inside my head a lot and very emotional, so it’s really easy for me to bring up these memories,” she said. “It’s a way for me to share the experience. At the same time, I want to leave room for the viewer to have their own feelings that arise around the work and maybe to even inspire them to go out and make art from their experiences.”
Their gallery show marks a transition for the pair, both now 29, who have finally settled in Boulder, Colorado, and as a reflection on years spent traveling, climbing and making art together.
Amee now works as a massage therapist, helping other outdoorsy people overcome injuries, while Renan continues to travel part of each year to climbing, financed by big-name sponsors like North Face, and making films from his expeditions. Most recently, he spent several weeks developing climbing routes in the limestone mountains of Antalya Province of southern Turkey. Both continue to paint.
Boulder offered a place to be near friends and an international airport, a key component of Renan’s regular expeditions. “We live that vagabond dirtbag lifestyle for a longtime, following the sun around the globe,” Amee said. “But it’s not easy living in your car for months at a time. It can be a grind. We wanted hang out with creative people, have lots of places to climb and – this is really important – lots of choices for great food.”