Interior Prariescapes Series V: Cultivating Containment    2007
Series Tour
cultivating containment


I began this latest addition to the Interior Prairiescape series intending to reconnect with
the pastel medium.  The paintings evolved into an expression of my thoughts and
sensations evoked by the culture we live in.  

It had been several years since I last picked up a pastel.  All of my recent work in the
series had been in either oil or acrylic.  I enjoy these mediums, but struggle to maintain a
fluidity of expression.  By contrast, chalk pastel was the first medium I felt comfortable
with as a student.  Affinity with no other medium have I felt to such a degree. For some
time, the chalks had been calling to me and it seemed appropriate to answer and explore
this series in my “native tongue.”

Despite this past kinship, the initial work felt awkward and I was quite insecure with my
accomplishments even with encouragement from friends.  It is nice to have
cheerleaders, but, as every artist should know and cultivate, you sense when it feels
right.  Unfortunately, I had nagging concerns that I could not ignore both at the technical
level and with the overall message.  Landscape work must go beyond the mere
conveyance of land forms and push us to connect with the underlying emotional charge
we feel as we experience the landscape.  Regardless of my concerns, I kept working
and continued to experience what felt like an inability to control the medium to the
intended degree.  I decided to abandon the paper I was using, a bristol board, and
change to a pastel board embedded with sand.  At that point, the work began to “feel
right” and meaning began to emerge.

With each pastel painting, I explored specific areas – foreground, horizon line, grid work
of fields, tree lines and details.  I played with these elements to create a unique but
familiar vision of the land around us.  As the paintings evolved, I found myself becoming
more and more concerned with the sky.  Beyond the corn fields, I was moved to
introduce another sign of human imprint on the environment, jet trails.  These jet trails
went strangely all over the place yet in the same general direction, a detail I remember
seeing often.  The contrast between the static geometry of corn fields and the looser,
but still linear order of jet trails was interesting.  The solidity of terra firma manifested an
orderly structure, but the atmospheric sensation in the sky was more fluid though still
readily discernable.

As the paintings progressed, my visual interest in corn fields and jet trails evolved into
metaphoric interest. You can see jet trails from so far away, but imagine all the people
inside the plane and ponder what they are doing and where they are going.  This
perspective generates a sense of smallness and insignificance, of how silly it is to fret
over almost anything, and how completely caught up and unaware we usually behave.  
All of our daily busyness appears minor when you can view or sense humankind from
a far vantage point.   This jet trail symbol, juxtaposed against the controlled geometry of
the corn fields, further conveys a message of busy expansion across the land and the
attempt to control the environment. Row after row, literally millions of individual corn
plants shoot to the sky in soldierly fashion to bear seed, fuel for the future.  Together
they form a solid, breathless geometry of field work, a static symbol of management.  To
see jet trails and cornfields – evidence of the many behaving almost as a one – compels
me to no end.

Within this controlling behavior, there is an underlying sense of futility I can not escape.  
Our landscape and sky filled up with signs and symbols of incessant activity generates
a feeling in me that has a force, which is chaotic and ineffective, similar to the hamster
in the wheel sensation.  We live in a world that is jam packed with detail, much of which
is useless and overwhelming to the senses.

Couple this information overload with a puritanical sensibility and here we discover
what informs our handling of the environment and invariably ourselves.  There is almost
a stricture to be sensed in the land.  The grid work flows to the horizon.  The Midwest is
a strange geometry of controlled areas crouching onto natural ones.  Without the
organic flow of waterways there would be nothing but rigid geometric forms on the
land.  This look of the land and the tension manifest in its handling is fascinating, yet we
should realize that it impacts our psyches.

This series of hyper-detailed, increasingly color saturated pastel work is a visual
response to this emotional charge of the land I describe.  It is also a conveyance of
opinion.  With extreme detail in the pastel work and saturated color, I attempted to
suggest a frenetic energy – the microscopic minutia-oriented busyness I sense in our
culture.  The literal, physical execution of the work was mind boggling.  To paint leaf
after leaf, tassel upon tassel, from field to field all the way to the horizon line, was
crazy behavior, and yet somehow comforting, soothing and meditative.  There is indeed
a sense of security we fabricate daily which veils a dynamic balance of opposites and
an underlying raw fundamental energy, the basis of which remains beyond the grasp of
our control.

I am amazed visually, metaphorically, and emotionally at how much we attempt to
contain our environment and our lives without considering their ultimate, incredible
fragility, which is the impermanence of it all.