Erosion (Idaho Road Trip)

I’ve spent a decade painting about economic erosion.  I need to do a social segment on this topic, (but am waiting to be in a populated area for that).  Here, on the lava field I’m working on the “Cinder” series exploring a tangent of environmental erosion.  With the BP oil spill, Katrina, Haiti and Japan’s earthquakes and all the recent tsunamis and floods, it seems timely.

I’ve come to the perfect place.  This lava field is beautiful, timeless, and all encompassing; it absorbs both light and water like a sponge or a black hole.   Plants and bats are gripped to it. I’m sucked into its blackness as well. I’m obsessed with trying to translate the feeling of this place.  It is beautiful but it is also harsh and intrusive.  It is also apocalyptic. The paintings are not what I want them to be yet.  Marks need to be rougher and crude.

It is hard dealing with “landscape” in 2011, with all the history of painting behind them.  I can’t make them with too much tar or they will look like Kiefer.  Cameron Martin already painted a volcano over and over again for years. I don’t want to make them too detailed because digital photography can do that.   I’ve got to be careful of the proportions of the horizon line and if I pour the paint it will look like the 70s.  If I make skies grey or black and white, they’ll quote Ed Ruche, and if they are too horizontal that has been done too much. It might be impossible to make original marks after centuries of Chinese Scholar paintings. Recently I saw Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams and feel I can’t even compete with shamanistic cave painters from 45, 000 years ago.

My favorite artists are Smithson and Beuys.  I like Kiefer’s work, but it doesn’t have any resolution in it.  It is all about longing, loss and guilt but there is little humanity due to the lack of craft in its execution.  There’s no craft in the literal sense in that Kiefer paints on top of photomurals.  His work takes very little of his own time to make.  Nature will age it for him.  He might bury it, but he snaps a photo, sends it to a lab to be made huge, digs a hole, places it there and the work is made. His work is very contemporary in that it is made quickly.  Beuys work has conceptual resolution in it.  Conceptually the work goes full circle by including themes of rebirth and rejuvenation.  The work is much more optimistic than Kiefers. Smithson, my all-time hero, was all about erosion and decay, but he believed everything became more beautiful by achieving maximum entropy—the greatest “state of rest”; decay.

With my work, I want there to be an element of craft and skill.  Because of this at first glance the work can’t help but appear old-fashioned. I am rendering in order to provide an element of humanity in the work.  I also want the work to polarize viewers.  I don’t want to be a beautician. I want to make a landscape that is beautiful and ugly at the same time. I am still experimenting.  It is really hard.

I like painting because it is immediate, simple, and difficult.  It is assuredly low-tech, and therefore difficult to imitate.  I don’t like to use software in a work of art because over time the piece might look like the software that created it, (especially as more and more art work utilizes it). I am challenged enough by capturing gestures and feelings stored in my body.  Today I’m working on breaking natural rhythms and instilled patterns in my brush handling.  I’m not sure if the human body even has uniqueness.  This is partially why I paint.


  1. I like what you are saying here

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