Scott Keeney: Hi, my name is Scott Keeney and I’m an artist in Spicewood and this is a painting of mine that I did during the fires. There were a number of fires to choose from and I just happened to be up really early this morning and I – one morning and I saw the Steiner Ranch fire just as the sun was just starting to come up and it was – the sky was still dark, but I just – I just didn’t believe the colors and there was already – there was already a thermal coming up off of the cloud – off the – off the fire and it just was amazing. So, I took some pictures of it and then went home and painted this and it’s – it’s kind of – it’s kind of crazy because at the bottom you can see that you – I really couldn’t see much at the bottom and there’s actually—actually part of the lake. I was down by the lake and – and there’s – there’s the fire and then there’s just all these weird colors coming off it, so that’s – that’s what I got and you can still see it from the top. It’s basically dark.
KUT News: So, this was that Sunday or the – the following Monday?
Keeney: I don’t really remember, but yeah, I think it was probably Sunday because that was the day I had off.
KUT News: Yeah and so were you – were you in any kind of danger out here? Did you know?
Keeney: Yeah, I mean, everybody gets a little freaky when – when there – when the fire is coming and – and you get a little worried. The Pedernales fire was more of a worry to us than – than the Steiner fire because it’s closer and we – we drove up – we drove up and it just happened to – I’d happen to see all of the – the classic fences melting. That was literally sort of Dali-esque. I was thinking of painting that because literally there was – there was all of these white ranch fences that had all – that were all in the process of melting down to the ground.
KUT News: So, they were like wilted?
Keeney: They were absolutely wilted, melted, literally melted. All of these bars had suddenly turned into all these odd shapes on the ground. It’s like, “Oh, that’s not good,” and it was – it was actually – it had actually just leaped over so I – I turned around and came back. Didn’t pain that, but I like this. This is – this to me feels like pretty much what it looks like to me it’s – it’s – it’s a little bit unreal. The – the fire is very unreal. I’ve lived through some other fires. I used to live in Santa Barbara and a – a fire went right through where – an area that I lived in there once it’s – it’s scary stuff and I think that was a very scary time for everybody. I mean, you’d see – you’d see things go – falling down from – ash falling down from the sky and ash falling down from the sky is the kind of thing that makes you feel, “Oh, this is – this is not the way it should be, “ and so, yeah, I think everybody was a little bit – but it didn’t hurt me at all.
KUT News: Well, the – the conditions were so strange. Everybody – everybody that I’ve talked to today, you know, have talked about it was just – it was anomalous and it was, you know, a perfect storm of really heavy winds.
Keeney: It was – it was very – it was not only – it was not only anomalous, but it was – you’re right a perfect storm because for instance, my – my neighbors have swimming pools and just before that, some of their swimming pools – the ground had become so – so warm that the swimming pools no longer were cool at all. They were exactly the same temperature as the ground around them and the ground around them was hot. So there was an obvious feedback going between the ground and so you’re not just – you’re dealing with very, very warm, very, very dry ground and you’re dealing with the air and the feedback from fires, the lack of humidity, the wind, just – it was – it was – it was just a perfect storm, absolutely.
KUT News: What do you call this?
Keeney: Steiner Ranch Fire.
KUT News: That’s awesome. How long – so how long did you – I guess, you said you took – take us through, I guess a little bit of the process of – of putting this together.
Keeney: The process of putting this – this together was – it was basically two days of painting. I – I painted – I painted the – the first part and then realized that the – that the – the – the piece there in that – that major cloud was – was too high. Originally, I had the cloud big and that really wasn’t the way I’d seen it from where I was and I wanted to have the sense of it being over there instead of being really, really close. So, like I moved everything – I moved everything down and I also wanted to have a sense of it being kind of almost dark, too, just the sun coming up. So, I made the sky – made it almost half of it as just dark sky and then the – the other half is – is the – the sun coming up amidst all of this – this, you know, this – this stuff and – and then essentially there’s a dark <inaudible 5:09> blackness that was the – the lake and the hills.
KUT News: Yeah, tell – describe a little bit some of the colors. I mean, there are so many.
Keeney: Yeah, it – it’s way – it’s way brighter than most of the landscapes that I paint primarily because – well, because whenever the sun rises especially, you get so many strange colors, but you don’t normally get – forest fires make blue – they actually make blue – blue in – in – in the clouds and it comes out more in – in the morning with all of that light, so there’s so much atmospheric stuff, all sorts of gasses and weird things and I just – I just loved that. Unfortunately, I just thought, “Wow, this is – this is awesome.” So for – for something that was just obviously horrible for someone else, as an artist, I just went, “Wow, this is probably one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen,” so I – and – and that was another reason why I wanted it down because I – I wanted – I didn’t want – I didn’t want to lie. I didn’t feel like I was in the middle of it. I was just seeing it way over there and I think for most people in Austin, that’s the way we were. We were seeing it over there and going, “Wow, that’s pretty amazing,” but – and scary and there’s something weirdly scary about it. I just – but I just – in two – it was done in two days. I just sort of made it the way I – I felt it.
KUT News: No, I was – that was exactly my next question because there’s this – there’s this irony or this – it’s so strange to – to be probably observing something that’s so destructive and then creating something new and artistic out of it.
Keeney: Well, I think that’s probably part of the dynamic of – of everything that people create and it’s – it’s – I think that Bastrop is, for instance, going to be – going to be the – the real recipient of a lot of that because Bastrop gets to – to remake itself or recreate itself and that’s what fire is basically all about. I mean, it goes through forest fires and prairies, et cetera, et cetera and it’s – it’s a natural process. It just happens to be a little less natural when – when we’re there and there’s so much more stuff to blow up and especially in that – a record drought and you’re going to have a bunch of – record numbers of fires and those – those fires are going to be very intense and part of it I – is – is – and I didn’t even try for it. I think that it – it shows into the intensity of that stuff. I mean, it was – there was some intense blazes just – just – just the fact that the wind was carrying the blaze as far as they were and the fact that you had so many trees that would just go up almost in a moment and then break off and then part of a tree would just, you know, go another 600 feet and then catch something else on fire and it would happen in seconds. That was – that was unbelievable.
KUT News: I was going to ask you have you witnessed – having been in a fire and California and having witnessed these, does it ever set in? Do you ever think, “I just need to get out of here,” or…
Keeney: Well, you know, fires, earthquakes, things like that – I – I sat underneath a chandelier under a – under a great big Santa Barbara earthquake once. It’s – it – it – you just – you just – it is part of what we have and – and really people don’t quite grasp how wonderful these guys are, the men and women who go up and fight these fires and they – they really – if there’s anybody who’s really putting their life – their lives on the line, it’s – it’s these people and that’s the thing I get out of it. I mean, I see people. You can’t see them in this painting, but there’s people out there who were already up and usually have been up all night long fighting these – these fires and to me that’s, you know, that’s really amazing. They’ve got – people are just tackling and they – some of these blazes are just enormous and they’re out there in the middle of nowhere with flying, you know, snakes and everything else and they’re, you know, defending us against that – against this force and it’s – that – that – I – I love the human nature element of this stuff.
KUT News: Right because so many of the firefighters that we spoke to, and you hit on this just a minute ago, fire – it has a very – you know, you cleared out space for the fire and – and that’s what happens, but it just happens. It just so happened that so many, kind of, people were involved in this one. That that – that’s where it sets into being kind of a human experience.
Keeney: It’s a very, very human experience and it’s also – it’s also one of those things which you – I didn’t – I wasn’t in a fire, but someone else was and there’s no real reason as to why some of these sections caught and why they didn’t. I mean, lightening sets off a lot of these things or somebody’s arson – arson-minded stupidity. You never know or – or – or a cigarette. It’s all random chance and with that kind of random chance, humans are, you know, we’re all the same. It could happen to any of us.