Humanoma: Aerial Views of the Anthropocene Dystopia

Gaia - The Earth, viewed as a vast self-regulating organism.  Named after a goddess of Greek Mythology.

Gaiacide - The killing of the Earth.

Ecocide - The destruction of the natural environment.

The subject of my paintings is the rapacious and traumatic human assault on the landscape, viewed from above.  From this distance, with the use of organic color and a heavily accreted paint surface, highways, arctic oil drilling camps, tract housing and industrial developments ("humanomas") are equated with invasive, life-threatening malignancies, the only difference being scale.

In the Arctic series, seen from a distance the paintings may appear to be organisms viewed through a microscope.  Closer inspection reveals oil drills and related apparatus disrupting and staining the pristine whiteness of ice and snow.  In the Roads, Forest and Factory paintings, excavators gnaw away at forests to make way for industrial parks and other products of unsustainable, consumer-driven economic “growth”.  The painting "Inroads" shows a serpentine tract house development insinuating itself into a valley.  It's "head", a cul-de-sac, is slightly cocked in the direction of another commotion in the upper right:  A toxin-spewing train wreck.  "Weapon of (Bio)Mass Destruction (Arboricide)" is the first in a series depicting the machines we use to strip, clearcut and drill into the earth.

Electronic Landscape is an assemblage of painted electronic components re-creating (literally) a toxic landscape. 

In the catalogue for the exhibition Trouble in Paradise (List Visual Arts Center, MIT), Curator Dana Friis-Hansen wrote:

"Harry Bartnick’s paintings are sinisterly seductive; their intimate scale and meticulous rendering draws us close to enjoy their lush surfaces, yet suddenly we discover the disconcerting images of industrialized society’s voracious destruction of our environment. The earth is equated to the body, human activities to those of malevolent microbes.  .   . Bartnick gets under our skin through pointed pictorial ambiguity."

While I refer loosely to newspaper and magazine sources, most of these images are entirely invented.  After many years of working from life, I can now, with a knowledge of the mechanics of light and space, augment photographic reference material or completely invent images.  I use the traditional pictorial devices of light and shadow to keep these images within the realm of the “realistic”.  A greater degree of distortion or abstraction, while possibly offering a more direct expression of anger or despair, would diminish the resonance these images may have to the viewer’s world – the sense that this is the actual state of things.  While traveling by air, the views from airplane windows have verified, and sometimes surpassed, my worst dystopian visions.

".  .  . she saw the hard, cutting edges of the new houses, which seemed to spread over the hillside in angles and straight lines, the expression of corruption triumphant and unopposed, corruption so pure that it is hard and brittle. . ."   D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow

“Need I tell you that this once beautiful and nourishing planet when viewed from the air now resembles .  .  .  diseased organs .  .  . and that the apparent cancers growing for the sake of growth alone, and consuming all and poisoning all, are the cities of your beloved human beings?"

.  .  . it appeared that the earthling part of the clockwork of the universe was in terrible danger, since many of its parts, which is to say people, no longer fit in anywhere, and were damaging all the parts around them as well as themselves.   Kurt Vonnegut, Galapagos

These paintings are not for sale and are intended only for solo or group exhibitions at museums, college and university galleries, or any secure public non-commercial gallery space with high visibility.

Using Format