Saturday, 15 February 2014

'Arizona - (after Don deLillo's 'Underworld)' 168x132cms

One of my  'A m e r i c a s c a p e s'  series and one of the strongest paintings of my career,  Now the children have grown up a bit, might risk putting it on the stairs....
In 1997, I was awarded a Boise Travel Scholarship from the Slade School of Art and made a series of train journeys around the US before painting for 2 months in a barn (belonging to sculptor Jon Isherwood) in upstate New York.  On my travels, I took a detour to the Grand Canyon where I had an incredible, sublime moment: alone on the edge of a promontory, in a jaw-dropping landscape, buzzards flying overhead, total silence.....
As an artist, how do you deal with that grandeur, that overwhelming visual, physical experience?  Like the 'City of Glass' series where I had problems dealing with the scale and familiarity of New York, I found my way in through a novel, this time with Don deLillo's 'Underworld'. 
There is a passage where the main character Nick Shay, visits an artist friend of his from New York who is making an artwork at an air base in the Arizona desert. It's not an active base, it's where the US airforce keep their decommissioned B52 bombers, rows upon rows of them, neatly parked. The artist and her team of assistants are systematically stripping the silver paint from the aircraft and then repainting them in wild, vivid colours. Of course, it's a piece that can only be seen from the air, and as a birthday treat Nick and his wife see the artwork from a hot air balloon, a fantastic passage on p:83, where through Nick's eyes you are seeing a painting, the like of which you can never have imagined.  
I was mesmerised by the scale and ambition and beauty of the (fictitious) artwork- in an interview, the artist talks about the desert being the frame - and it resonated with my experience at the Grand Canyon.  
''This is a landscape painting in which we use the landscape itself. the desert is central to his piece. It's the surround. It's the framing device. It's the four-part horizon.'' 
Artist Klara Sax, p:70, 'Underworld'
In the painting there is so much space and heat, the white, blank canvas of Mexico the hottest part. In the top right corner is the image of the B52's, and in the spirit of the novel, although ordered in rows, each is different, individualised, 'decommissioned' from their military identity.  There are fifty aircraft, one for each state, and if you tilt your head you can see the deliberate link to the American flag. Scratched into the paint, is a very subtle trainline, ending at the powerful dot of Flagstaff where you catch the bus to the canyon.....
Detail- B52 bombers


'Arizona' & 'D.C.(Diamond City)' at the Michael West Gallery

1 comment:

  1. In the early twentieth century, in his series of lectures entitled Pragmatism, the philosopher and psychologist William James advanced the thesis that, broadly speaking, people can be separated into two general categories of personality – tough minded and tender minded. Here are these two classes as described by James in his own words: