Given enough time gazing at the skylines and sandstone landscape of southeastern Utah, few would come away failing to have seen forms and faces in the rocks everywhere.
Arches National Park is home to some of the more famous and universally recognized forms - the cowboy britches of Delicate Arch, the bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti at Park Avenue, the Parade of Elephants, the Three Gossips, Sheep Rock and the Penguins.Arches is an appetizer, the introductory course. The imagination will find forms everywhere after training at Arches, says artist T.C. "Dutch" Walker.
"Actually," he said, amending that thought, "Arches is almost the main course. It's a place where you can look and see forms everywhere. I can't think of a place where you can see as many forms all at once."
Walker took his first "joy" ride through Arches eight years ago. Looking back, he realizes that was the genesis of his current art form - the personification, in watercolor cartoons, of "members" of geological strata of the local area.
Walker calls his sandstone characters "Slikrox." They are making their debut this month on the walls of Honest Ozzie's Desert Oasis and Cafe, on Moab's First West Street.
"They are the spirits that I see embedded in the slickrock member of the Entrada sandstone family," said Walker.
"The way I look at them, they're all family members - they're spirits. If anybody doubts that there are spirits in the rocks, and they can talk, go out among the rocks, preferably alone, and you will discover the rocks do talk to you. It's true."
The artist recently returned to Moab after moves to Dolores, Colo., and Sedona, Ariz., where his metal sculptures of petroglyphs are marketed. His work is also seen at Moab Mercantile and Fine Arts Gallery in the Grand Emporium.
He began painting and cartooning as a child but moved into other fields in college. He took up the paintbrush in earnest again last spring, experimenting with watercolor for the first time, with landscapes his subject. While in Colorado, the slickrock spirit of the Moab area kept creeping into his work.
"Basically, I've always been a cartoonist. Try as I might to paint a landscape or stuff like that - a serious landscape - I'll end up putting something silly in it, a cartoon animal or a sun looking down and smiling, or whatever," Walker said.
"I was painting slickrock, and before I knew it, I was painting faces in the slickrock. I just finally gave up and decided I am not a serious landscape artist," he said. "I am a silly cartoonist, and that's what I do. I don't consider myself a serious artist. I am a fool with a paintbrush."
In classic cartoon style, Walker occasionally adds bubbles of dialogue between his slickrock characters or tells their story in a sentence or two beneath the scene.
For example, there's the tale of Sandy and Delbert Stone, who got mad at each other and remained stone silent for 235,000 years. In "Arch Enemies," a tale of two arches, the caption reads: "They handled their dispute as only they could: Squaring off, they faced each other and glared angrily for all eternity."
In another, a sandstone spire with a handle that extends to the ground like an elephant's trunk, complains: "I'll give the Park Service one more season to muster up enough imagination to name me Elephant Arch. If they blow it I'll erode into something else or join the circus."
Walker's creations also include bulky, maternal-looking mounds with goofy-faced little rocks at their feet, "desert dudes" wearing shades, "slikrox in love," killer buttes that zap birds and bikers, slews of slickrock spires sweltering in the sun, and the Cactus King with his queenly counterpart - solitary rock stands in a state of symbiotic bliss with ornamental cacti.
"A lot of my paintings, I don't know what they're going to be about until I'm finished. I don't know what spirit they'll be, and when I'm finished they tell me who they are," Walker said.
He said the creation of his series of "Slikrox" was an obsession over the past few months, at times commanding his hold on the paintbrush 10 to 12 hours a day. He was happy to observe that sheer volume was not the only result.
"I see a definite settling in of technique. And I feel real happy with my color," he said. "I work from a gut feeling of what is the right color to use, and it seems to work. That's one of the biggest responses I get from people when they see my work. They say, `Oh, I love the colors.' "