There is urgency in this scene. An elk herd, late in the fall, makes the critical decision to leave the high country and head for the wintering grounds. This herd travels along an alpine ridge with haste. No time is lost since snow depth can quickly become a problem in the high country. The elk herd flows along the ridgeline like river water – as they roll up over a rise in the terrain they bunch up like water compressing over a large boulder. Once the herd breaks over the rise the tension is broken and the energy of the group, like rapids in a choppy river, settles out and flows more relaxed and calmly downstream.
On the left side of the painting the storm moving into the high country is dark and the force of the lines in the clouds is pressing down on the herd to create tension. As the herd moves along the terrain, the energy dissipates. The sky has a calmer feeling toward the right which helps nurture a sense of relief in the direction the herd is moving towards. A slight yellow glow in the sky to the right hints of a warm hospitable place that the elk are headed to. The cows furthest to the right even seem to say: “Look guys over there”... “Not much further”.
I am intrigued by the pattern that herds and flocks create on a landscape. The individual animals themselves become simple points that are randomly arranged, but collectively they create flowing lines and shapes that are so naturally artistic. The long narrow dimension of this painting helps to accentuate the flowing nature and dynamics of this big elk herd moving across the land like a river of elk.