New paintings about beauty and destruction / 2015.
Underground Nuclear Test Sequence
About These Paintings
The Nevada National Security Site is unknown to most Americans and virtually absent from our visual culture, yet is perhaps the quintessential national landscape. This thirteen-hundred-square-mile reservation in the vast southwestern desert is pockmarked with more than a thousand nuclear craters produced by US engineers during the Cold War. Each as much as a thousand feet wide, the craters form an abstract topographical display, a warning directed at a remote audience of Soviet observers. Coincidentally, the plutonium used in most of these bombs was manufactured in my hometown, 650 miles to the north in southeastern Washington state. To me NNSS represents the most extreme collision of technology, conflict and environment in the American West.
In a series of paintings titled “Blooms,” I depict the NNSS alongside images of Lewisia rediviva, a scarce, tiny flower that grows in the desert soil of Washington state and—according to government botanical surveys—on the site itself. Discovered in 1806 by the Lewis and Clark expedition, and named after Meriwether Lewis, Lewisia (also known as Bitterroot) appears as a delicate splash of pink against the harsh desert landscape. The rediviva variant was named when water was spilt on a dried laboratory specimen, prompting it to sprout anew; rediviva means ‘rebirth.’ The cathartic juxtaposition of these two subjects offers a metaphor for hope and fear, and addresses major thematic dualities of our times: beauty/destruction, technology/environment, creativity/growth, progress/war.
“Blooms” also visualizes the apocalyptic sublime, the awe-inspiring quality that contemporary, man-made cataclysms share with their historical, natural equivalents. A battle-scarred wasteland and a fragile blossom may seem diametrically opposed, but they share a deeper quality: both are meant to be observed. My paintings are tessellations of this relationship, abstracted visual equations that reconfigure our perceptions of contrasting but interconnected phenomena.