Our New Age evokes the sense of both wonder and doom that I feel when grappling with our changing world. The title interweaves three references whose overlaps and incongruences correlate to themes in these paintings. Beginning in the 1950s with the Atomic Age, we entered a proposed new geological time period, the Anthropocene Epoch, during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Our New Age was also the title of a Sunday comic that ran from the mid 50s through the 70s. The comic illustrated scientific ideas with a midcentury optimism for science and technology. And third, Our New Age, refers to the Age of Aquarius, associated with hippie counter culture and the later New Age movement.
I approach the subjects of my paintings from a perspective of skeptical attraction. My sense of wonder for modern science and reverence for nature is shrouded in a haze of eco-anxiety and disdain for appropriated ceremonies and stolen land. This gloomy haze drew me to explore the specific art historical theme of Vanitas. Vanitas still life paintings symbolize the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death, displaying contrasting symbols of wealth, death and the ephemeral like rotting exotic fruit and wilting flowers. The lavish Vanitas paintings of the Dutch golden age, whose signifiers of wealth and conquest were a blatant exposé of the inequalities of colonialism and early global capitalism, subtly seem to have been aware of the precarious and vile side of their indulgence. Dutch still life painting’s inseparable relationship with colonial conquest has provided me with a poignant entry to consider my own celebration of nature and objects. Adding still lifes and interiors to my practice of painting landscapes provides entry for anthropological themes. The interiors correlate with the landscapes allowing cultural signs to intertwine with the wilderness, as wild nature can no longer be separated from human influence. From the crumbled remains of the techno-utopian idealism of the midcentury arose a hippie idealism, which has since burned out. The artifacts of these eras remain like the fossils in strata of rock. Similar to the way that the layers of rock in Oregon’s Blue Basin were formed through a history of growth and destruction, a simple room full of stuff can carry the baggage of a turbulent history.
My first show at Russo Lee Gallery celebrated the lush forests around Portland through an expressive approach that spoke heavily to modern abstract painting. My largest inspiration is found in these forests, ancient systems of seemingly perpetual regeneration. The smoky haze of last summer’s wild fires, the time in which I started the work for this show, had me questioning the permanence of these same forests. Accepting the transience of these ecosystems involves more than the loss of a place. I paint these forests because of my reverence for them. The evidence of grand environmental change in our geology shows a similar history of loss. The visible strata in eastern Oregon fossil beds show a story of lush ecosystems that have risen and gone into extinction time and time again. It is uncertain whether this repetitive history of cataclysmic change increases an anxiety for unavoidable extinction or offers solace in the inevitability of change. The incomprehensibly long spans of time that make up geological periods are extremely far from our human experience of time. Dreading the changes of geological time seems ridiculous, like fretting that the sun will burn out in 5 billion years. However, with the summer sun dimmed to a dull, moon-like glow by the smoke of forests burning all around, the dread ensues. And this dread seems less ridiculous when grappling with our current geological age, the Anthropocene Epoch. Scientists suggest that plutonium radiation from the Atomic Age will be the observable signal in rock strata worldwide that indicates the new geological age. An atomic explosion that lasts a milli-second can bring us into a different epoch, a period of time typically spanning tens of millions of years. It seems poignant that the 1950s, the peak of faith in modern progress, is the dawning of a new geological age. A concept intrinsic to the history of landscape painting is that of the sublime; the fearful reverence and awe for Nature’s greatness that combats our hubris and grounds us. So there is a paradigm shift as a landscape painter when the sublime becomes fragile to the influences of people.