Piece of the Week: Jessica Ecker’s Candied Mountain (Architected Landscape 6), A Desert for Dessert

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The eye will go straight for the mountain. 

And, how could it not? 

The rock face in Candied Mountain (Architected Landscape 6) (30”x 22.5”) is essentially dipped in imagination and sprinkled with a colorful candy coating.  

The imaginative potential for the mountain in Jessica Ecker’s watercolor is boundless: perhaps the terrain is rocky with crushed lollipops, or bouncy with jellybeans and licorice, or even sandy from the contents of billion pixie sticks emptied into color coated regions.

“The landscape becomes delicious to us, a treat we want to savor and devour,” says Ecker.

The eye sugar-rushes towards mountain with the same alacrity as the metaphorical kid in the metaphorical candy store.   

But Ecker’s watercolor is more than mere eye candy.

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Detail of Candied Mountain (Architected Landscape 6)

Before the eye can actually escape to the mountain, as it frenetically charges through the pictorial plane, SMACK! It hits the window. 

The viewer, with a nose sliding flat against the glass, skitters down from its anticipatory sugar high and retreats back through the composition. There is a moment, a sinking realization: I am trapped in a box – a stylish, empty, live-in box – entirely beyond reach of the candied mountain (kind of like taking candy from a baby, isn’t it?).

“[Mountains] are magical places where you can transcend, escape, and be a part of something bigger and grander than your grey box,” says the artist.

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 Preliminary drawing for Candied Mountain

The house becomes a candy wrapper, of sorts.

You could say that the mountain is “individually wrapped,” if by that you mean the individual is wrapped. It is the viewer – entrapped by the house – that is excluded from the candied mountain.

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Candied Mountain 

Candied Mountain can be broken up into two contrastive (or rather, dialectical) planes: background and foreground. The background is colorful, sugary, open, and free. And, the foreground is gray, hard, sequestering, and containing.

The lines throughout the composition crystalize the distinctions: orthogonal inside, organic outside.    

This notion of edifice as place of confinement, is something that has perplexed Ecker for a lifetime.

Ecker’s father is a civil engineer. His specialization is in designing jails and prisons. As early as her elementary school years, she recalls studying her father’s floorplans, overhearing conversations about design flaws, and even going on tours to facilities (“talk about stark architectural realities…” she says).

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A scene from Ecker’s workspace 

Even into her higher education, the notion persisted. 

She describes graduate school as a time when “I kept contemplating boxes as units relating to houses, cars, cubicles and how we can be stuck inside floating while all around us the world is moving.”

The title of the painting comes from the 1928 Harry McClintock bluegrass hit, “The Big Rock Candy Mountains.” In essence, the song is “a hiking hobo’s” fantastical dream vision of a land of plenty where “the lemonade springs” and “the hens lay soft boiled eggs, all scored to a guitar’s bona fide strumming.  

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Record of The Big Rock Candy Mountains the 1928 folk song and inspiration behind Candied Mountain.

One particularly interesting consistency between the song and the painting is the way they both associate the mountain with freedom. One lyric in the song describes the “Big Rock Candy Mountains”” farcically shoddy prison system, saying, “the jails are made of tin/and you can walk right again as soon as you are in.” 

As Ecker pointed out, mountains readily become a space of imaginative freedom.

 Both the song and the watercolor join into a tradition of conflating desert and dessert. (It’s a tradition that is practically built into language; press the “s” key with slightly too much force and desert literally becomes dessert – it’s a typo classic). 

The subject matter comes from her childhood; when Ecker was younger, she and her sister, both full from “too many donuts,” would often play in the Arizona desert.

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Image from Ecker’s studio

“These excursions provided distractions, a new focus, and a much needed change of environment - an environment where we could be explorers and conquerors,” she remembers.

 Even after she moved away from the desert, the landscape of her childhood always called to her: “I…always yearned for the desert,” says Ecker.  


See More of Jessica Ecker’s work on UGallery.

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