If Donald Neff’s idea of painting all the streams in California’s Silicon Valley strikes you as unusual, you may have forgotten what the area was like before Hewlett-Packard and scores of other tech companies moved there.
“Clearing Fog, Elkhorn,” by Donald Neff, 2007, oil on board, 8 x 16 in. Private collection
“It was called the Valley of Heart’s Delight,” says Neff, “because it was full of fruit trees — a very fertile, rich area, and there’s still patches of this around. It’s kind of interesting that it’s known as the birthplace of computers now.” Neff, who lives in San Jose, plans on painting 52 8 x 10-inch paintings of streams in the Santa Clara Valley — Silicon Valley — over the next year. He posted his first one on Facebook last week. Each painting will depict a different stream.
“Truckee,” by Donald Neff, 2008, oil on board, 12 x 16 in.
“The least hardest thing about this project will be finding places to paint,” says Neff. “I come from a tech background and I’m ‘Google-Earthing’ the land around here and finding places that I can paint. If you don’t like the scenery, you can go five miles away and see something completely different. In some places, you can hardly notice you are in the middle of the city, as in the first piece I painted. There are streams everywhere — we’re in a valley. A lot of people don’t realize what is underneath their feet when they are driving on the freeway on their way to work.”
“Salt Creek (Death Valley),” by Donald Neff, 2013, oil, 12 x 24 in.
Neff says he has been thinking about this project, dubbed “Creeks and Rivers of Silicon Valley,” for five or six years. “It’s time I started,” he says. Silicon Valley has a million people and a lot of development, but Neff isn’t devoted to seeking out hidden outposts of nature and cropping every scene to remove the mark of humans. He looks forward to depicting freeway bridges and downtown parks in his paintings. The only mandatory element is water. “I’ve always loved painting water — almost every painting I’ve done has had some kind of water in it,” he says. “For 30 years, I’ve been naturally drawn to streams and lakes. We’re in a valley here. Smaller streams will start flowing soon in the winter when we get some rain. But right now I am looking for fall color. I was going to wait until Thanksgiving, but it would be gone by then.”
“Last Light on the Truckee,” by Donald Neff, 2007, oil on board, 16 x 20 in. Private collection
The artist says he hopes to have a show of all the paintings when the project is done. He won’t be able to paint exactly one a week, but he’ll complete them all in a year’s time. He has to, now.
“West Fork of the Carson (Hope Valley),” by Donald Neff, 2013, oil on board, 10 x 12 in.
“I couldn’t decide whether to go public with this, but I realized if I did, I couldn’t get out of it,” says Neff with a laugh.