Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Legacy Of A Dead Planet

My work is a record of a personal journey of discovery and adventure. It's a deeper look into the conflict between Nature and Man. Studying this conflict requires complete honesty, and in order to fully understand the dynamic, an observer must accept the possibility that the side to which his sympathy is given may not be winning.

This is not such an easy idea to accept for someone who is a lover of Nature, because it should be obvious that Nature will most likely obliterate any of Man's accomplishments. That which Man creates is made of Nature's building blocks, and is therefore no greater than Nature herself. Buildings crumble and rot, images fade away, civilizations and their hopes and dreams fall to pieces as elements react with elements and molecules with molecules. Sublime natural forces such as rust or mold are as detrimental to Mankind as the atomic fusion that creates stars and galaxies.

So if Nature has so much going for it, how can Mankind possibly pose a threat? What efforts can humans bring that will overcome the powers of creation? These are questions that I have been exploring in my studies of abandoned buildings and polluted wetlands. The first look at a crumbling brick row home with trees growing up through the roof would seem to indicate that given enough time, Nature will get the upper hand. But something else is there, something sinister, something malignant, even depraved.

Picture yourself on a canoe, floating down a canal that cuts through a thick marsh, with the tops of foxtail grasses reaching fifteen feet above the water line. Their roots are planted firmly in an oozy, green and brown base of land that seems like an ordinary marsh bed when casually viewed as you drift by. Upon closer inspection, you discover that this miry substratum is more than muddy earth. It's also a tangled mesh of old shoes, bottles, cans, wires, fabric, hoses, and any other relic that Man can create and discard. You soon realize that this marsh is growing on a land base that is made entirely of garbage. Acre after acre of what seemed like a pristine aquatic wilderness is actually an old landfill.

I used to claim that my work was, at its very core, optimistic. I believed that by drawing attention to distressed environments, I could convey the need to address concerns about the natural world and what our species would do to reverse the devastation it had caused. I believed that ultimately, Nature would prevail and rid itself of the plague that Mankind had brought. As I do more research and observation I'm beginning to feel that perhaps I was initially misguided and wrongly idealistic.

My recent studies of the New Jersey Meadowlands have reinforced this feeling. There aren't many places on earth where an ecosystem has suffered so terribly from the wanton greed and selfishness of the human quest for wealth and power. With air, water and land tainted with the poisonous by-products of Mankind's material culture, there is little reason to believe that a place that was transformed from a living wetland into a toxic wasteland can ever return to its original form. The discarded refuse and contamination is simply too widespread and too deeply infused into the land to ever be cleaned out enough to support life. The available land continues to be consumed by the demand for real estate, and the behavior of the water is forever re-directed to comply with the requirements of Mankind.

The optimism that I thought was the core emotion in my work has revealed itself to be despair. The more I see, the less I feel that Nature can eradicate the inherited desolation of a pernicious human civilization. Solid waste and toxic chemicals could potentially remain as part of the Earth's surface forever. The self-destructive and suicidal behavior of a species which chooses to live in such a way that destroys the very ecosystem on which it relies for its survival is further proof that there is little chance for salvation from this fate. Even after our species vanishes from history, there will be a legacy, and I have chosen to record it in my paintings: the legacy of a dead planet.