Post Idiom, 2012

[Post-Idiom is series of landscape-based watercolors that use this genre to confront contemporary concerns about the environment, language, and the malleability of images. Nineteenth century paintings of dramatic and idealized American landscapes have been manually copied with an unpredictable and painterly medium, referring to the slippage between reality and image. These paintings are completed by short bits of text culled from colloquial sayings that are vague yet poignant. This twitter-feed type language disrupts the drippy imagery, undermining the usual pleasure of painting: to be taken somewhere else.  The ambivalent lines in each painting suggest the range of responses one might have when confronted by climate change. Many of these paintings were worked on during Hurricane Sandy’s arrival last fall, a storm that has become a benchmark for the new normal of our erratic weather; and the sublimity of that experience no doubt worked its way into this series.]

 

Idioms are everywhere. They represent our inherited wisdom, the voice of elders, and our conventional knowledge. Filial Piety would tell us to follow this wisdom above all else, but under the surface of the seemingly tried and true is a very dangerous tendency.

Adirondack Lake after Winslow Homer, 1870
watercolor on Yupo
16” x 20.5"

 

In 1981, Buckminster Fuller published A Critical Path. In this book he lays out the problems of our economies, education systems, and our use of fossil fuels, and he proposes very manageable solutions to these crises. That same year Ronald Regan was sworn in as President signaling an extremely conservative swing in the popular opinion and leadership of the United States. Many have now linked the current global financial woes to the laws passed during Regan’s presidency. This is illustrated by Charles Morris’ account in the 2010 documentary, Inside Job: “I had a friend who was a bond trader at Merrill Lynch in the 1970s. He had a job as a train conductor at night, 'cause he had three kids and couldn't support them on what a bond trader made. By 1986, he was making millions of dollars, and thought it was because he was smart.”

Lake Placid Rainbow after Joann Sandone Reed, 2012
watercolor on Yupo
22” x 29"

 

The World Economic Forum Global Risks 2013 report released January 8th begins with an unnerving theory that sluggish and stalled economies worldwide are a direct distraction from long-term environmental horrors.

Adirondack State Park after guideoftravels.com, 2011
watercolor on Yupo
17 ” x 20”

This September the extent of sea ice at the South Pole reached an all time high. While sea ice is diminishing in the north, it is growing rapidly in the south, a scenario that none of the dominant climate models take into account. After a summer of record high temperatures in North America the global warming hysteria is high, yet much of the climate data suggests the planet might actually be cooling. While many of us have bought into the idea of anthropomorphic climate change, we do not actually know how climate change will take shape. 

Schroon Mountains after Thomas Cole, 1833
watercolor on Yupo
21” x 29"

 

The science of the 20th and 21st century has challenged thousands of years of intuition and lead us to new and more accurate understand of our earth and our cosmos. We have more knowledge and information is more accessible than ever before, yet for the first time in history average Americans have less education and are less prosperous than their parents.

Ausable River after Samuel Colman, 1869
watercolor on Yupo
29” x 36.5"

 

“I often ask beginner geography students to consider where their last meal came from. Tracing back all the items used in the production of that meal reveals a relation of dependence upon a whole world of social labour conducted in many different places under very different social relations and conditions of production. That dependency expands further when we consider the materials and goods used in the production of the goods we directly consume. Yet we can in practice consume our meal without the slightest knowledge of the intricate geography of production and the myriad social relationships embedded in the system that puts it upon the table.” – David Harvey, Between Space and Time, 1990.

Twilight in the Adirondacks after Sanford Robins Gifford, 1864
watercolor on Yupo
22” x 29"

 

We find ourselves in crisis with our environment. A crisis we have seen coming for some time and one that will continue to unfold. This crisis stems from a fundamental disconnection between man and nature. Set in motion by industrialization, this disconnection is both physical and conceptual stemming from our increasingly urban lifestyles and exacerbated by a mass reversion to conventional wisdom and superstitious beliefs. As extreme weather and massive storms increase in frequency we will pray to God to save us, yet he will say, “I told you so.”

A View Near Ticonderoga after Thomas Cole, 1826
watercolor on Yupo
29” x 38.5"

 

 “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods, 1854.

Keene Valley after Florence Ledyard Cross, 1914
watercolor on Yupo
17.5” x 20"

 
 

As Jean-Francois Lyotard wrote, landscapes make places consumable. The rectangle of the landscape painting creates a frame, a definable boundary, similar to the fence on the edge of cultivated land. The picture plane is placed on a vertical wall at the height of the average human’s eyes to mimic a window. Landscapes reflect more about human perception than they depict the natural world accurately. An accurate study of nature usually requires some human discomfort. For example, for hundreds of years we thought that the tops of the giant redwood trees in California would be relatively barren. Yet once researchers were able to access the canopy using difficult climbing techniques, they found a complex and teaming ecosystem.

Reed Camp on Lake Lila after Guy Wilson, 1906
watercolor on Yupo
29" x 38.5"

 

 

 

Despite the desperate situation we are in, I am hopeful. As tiny and insignificant as we may each feel on a planet of seven billion, each and every one of us does matter. Our actions, however large or small, private or public, affect the future of our planet and ourselves. These paintings are critical of our current and historic consumption of the landscape, yet they are also encouraging, like motivational posters. After all, the first step is always admitting there is a problem. 

Lake George after Jasper Francis Cropsey, 1872
watercolor on Yupo
16” x 20"

 

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