Artist’s Statement (Painting)

Several years ago I presented my paintings (aerial views of the invasive and destructive human presence in forest and arctic landscapes) to a prominent New York art gallery owner.  Referring to my environmentalist subject matter, his response was “You don’t have to hit people over the head with it.”  But there are existential issues that artists have addressed directly and effectively, with the hope of making a difference.  To mention a few:  War (Goya, Disasters of War; Picasso, Guernica; Kathe Kollwitz, images of war and class struggle); Slavery (Turner, The Slave Ship; Kara Walker); Terrorism and corruption (Leon Golub, Mercenaries and Interrogation paintings).  Today, along with these concerns, we can add climate change and its effects, driven by inexorable human population growth and unsustainable consumerism, with no apparent worldwide desire to apply the available solutions, only foot-dragging gestures to forestall the inevitable.  Over time, I understood that the art dealer and I had different agendas. The effect of humans on the planet is subject matter too important to be made palatable (i.e. marketable) by obscuring it under expressionist brushwork or fashionably ambiguous imagery so that it can be easily overlooked in favor of a purely "optical" experience.

Nevertheless, that dealer’s comment did give me something to consider.  Except for one thing:  While, to my mind, I’m being perfectly clear and to-the-point in what I want to convey, the viewers’ responses are sometimes exactly the opposite of what I intended: A painting of the Union Carbide plant in Connecticut, seen from above, with a “head” and “tail” and claw-like appendages for parking, made to appear as if slithering though a dense woodland, appeared to a scientist (who bought the piece) as “man and nature working in harmony”.  In another instance, a forest penetrated from 3 sides by a snakelike tract house development, a viral-looking industrial park, a parking lot, and a tractor trailer depot, looked like Progress and "capitalism at its best" to a viewer, in spite of the fact that the work was titled "Invasive Species".  What I’ve come to realize, and did not expect, is that the paintings act as a litmus test of where the viewer’s sympathies lie:  An oil drilling camp despoiling a pristine icy terrain might be horrifying to an environmentalist, but thrilling to an oil company executive; A tract house development of thousands of new homes, in overall shape reptilian and menacing, may trigger salivation in a real estate agent.  So much for “hitting them over the head”.


It seems to be required, or at least advantageous, for artists to cite the influences of old or modern masters on their work, no matter how negligeable that connection might actually be.  At present, when there are no prevailing criteria to determine the quality of a work of art, claiming artistic lineage has become very important.  I can make no claim of links to other artists in the form, color and brushwork of my paintings; my influences are mainly in spirit, by artists such as those mentioned above:  Artists who took the risk of a head-on imaging of human conflicts and depredations, pulling no punches, loud and clear; art not intended for the living room (or the corporate boardroom).  Beside those already mentioned, artists whose work I find compelling in this regard are Edward Burtynsky (large format photographs) and Alexis Rockman (paintings of man’s subversion of the natural world).  Other than this, my biggest influence comes from those “big picture”, view-from-above images made by aerial photographers whose focus is the relationship of humanity to the planet, whether their goal is art, design or simply documentation.  

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