In conveying this uncomfortable beauty, I find my comfortable spot as a painter.
For many years as an architect I engaged with the built environment’s impact on human and ecological health. As a painter, I investigate how human activities impact landscapes, changing them from their natural and balanced conditions. My work centers around aerial imagery of industrial accidents, extreme weather, and scarred landscapes. Oddly, a shattered ecosystem is captivating; I call it an uncomfortable beauty.
William Butler Yeats’ observed that “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold,” meaning that human imposed systems and processes break down in nature, both destroying nature and being destroyed themselves. As humans intervene in the natural world, our industrial structures often cause large scale and lasting fragmentation to the environment. Spills from dye factories, effluents from industrial hog farming, agricultural run-off to the Gulf of Mexico, and other environmental disasters form my reference imagery. Ironically these industrial accidents and spills often result in intense color fields. The colors surprise—lush, layered, and profound in their range and depth of value, sparking an uncomfortable beauty in spite of their destructive contexts.
In one painting, an industrial by-product, coal ash, breaches its tanks and floods nearby farmlands. The viewer may discern the ghosts of the holding ponds and trace the movement of the effluents. In another painting, waterways are polluted by bright orange factory dyes while on their way to larger water systems and ultimately, the planet’s water cycle.
Working in an abstract expressive form to transmit movement and directionality, I use brushwork and poured or pooled fluid paint to provide an aerial view, flattened yet layered. I work primarily in acrylic, but use elements such as charcoal, graphite, collage and gold and silver leaf in many paintings. Using found textiles and cardboard as print surfaces I ink them to print a texture, or to layer subtle graphic fragments and small interventions within the painting.
For the viewer, I want the experience of my paintings to engage a temporal process of being drawn in to the surface of the canvas by color and compositional movement, gradually coming to understand the implications of the subject matter. I want the viewer to feel a physical pull into the canvas, as enveloped by the headiness of color and movement as I am during the painting process.