For the last couple of years my work has focused on nature and I purposely avoided any direct references to people. That choice was inspired by two thoughts. One, I believe it is useful to remind ourselves that humans are not the center of the universe. It is comforting to believe that we are the universe’s main protagonists, but we are only one expression of energy in a much bigger, much older story. Two, I did not know how to frame my thoughts on the interaction between people and the natural world. The relationship is complicated and increasingly strained and I did not want to get stuck painting depressing images of doom and gloom, but neither did I want to paint pleasant nature scenes that escape into an imagined purity.
I found a way forward looking through the prints of Enlightenment era naturalists like Ernst Haeckel and John James Audubon. I imagined what it would be like if an alien Audubon came to earth now and began cataloguing the things he saw with a stoic, scientific eye. Would he separate what nature makes and what we make? What would an alien naturalist’s painting look like if the nice, neat division between nature-made and man-made were taken away? In a way the things we make are made by nature, since we originate from nature. Reflecting on the question further, I noticed that when I would go hiking or camping I inevitably found discarded artifacts of human production, and so it felt authentic to my lived experience that I should start including these objects. As I worked on this body of paintings I discovered that by studying the small products that human beings crank out side by side with plants and animals I could relate a natural ecosystem to the encroaching system of human production that feeds off of it. By comparing the abundance of a renewing natural world next to the illusion of abundance that we sell to ourselves, I could explore ideas about why we build the way we do and the needs these products attempt to fulfill. Though the idea that nature has something to teach us about ourselves may seem quaint and old-fashioned, I still think that many of our best ideas come from listening closely to what it has to say.