Wednesday, December 10, 2014


A while back I was thinking I should keep an eye out for a jumbled woodpile to take reference photos. A few days later my neighbor across the street had some firewood dumped in his driveway. Voilá.
Firewood Studies #2 & #3 oil on paper  12" x 16" each

Monday, November 3, 2014

Engines and Fire

One of the purposes of my current project is to act as a reminder that fire, as we normally think of it, the open flames that helped transform early hominids into modern human beings, is not essentially any different from the hidden flame that fuels our cars and lights our homes. Fossil fuels are nothing more than ancient forests that grew more than 300 million years ago in the carboniferous period, transformed over vast eons of time into coal and oil. Burning this ancient fuel is now altering our climate. One ironic result of this change is an increase in wild fires in the west. Fire begets fire in more ways than we knew.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at individual pieces paired together from my two series of images: fires and engines.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Engine Studies

These are the first two pieces in a projected series of engine paintings that will act as a counterpoint to the small fire paintings. It is in engines that we trap the fire of ancient forests, like a genie in a bottle compelled to convey us from place to place at our whim. All that carbon is in turn spewed into the atmosphere, slowly changing it, making it warmer and less predictable and, as it turns out, making many of today's forests more vulnerable to fire.

engine study #2  oil on paper  12" x 16"

engine study #1  oil on paper  12" x 16"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Burn" in storage

The show at Attic Gallery is over. The centerpiece, called "Burn" is now at it's anonymous storage facility, a modest mid century ranch house somewhere in the west.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Installation of "Fire"

Here's some nice shots of the installation by my friend Jeff Whitaker who helped hang it as well.
The show opens tonight, September 4th and will run through the 27th at Attic gallery here in Portland, Oregon. For my statement about the show see my previous post.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Here's the final statement for my upcoming show at Attic Gallery, which opens Thursday, September 4th (evening reception from 6 to 9pm).

Installation view for "Fire"

The show is essentially a rough draft for a larger ongoing visual essay:

In October 2013, at the Playa artists residency program in eastern Oregon, I began exploring the complex relationship between fire and human beings. All along the steep hillsides of Winter Ridge overlooking the shallow alkaline Summer Lake, stood dead juniper and ponderosa pine, the blackened remnants of the Toolbox Complex Fire in 2002, one of the worst in the nation that year. Many nights at the residency I sat in the common room enjoying the warmth of flames in the large stone fireplace. The irony and contrast between these two facts was not lost on me. In it’s varied forms and uses we simultaneously love fire and fear it, but all too often, at our peril, we take it for granted.

In the Greek myth Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. The god Prometheus is an idea, a myth, a metaphor. But fire is very real and in many ways much like a god in its own right. A million years ago, somewhere in the distant tangle of the family tree between ape and us, early hominids knew its awesome power and learned how to manipulate it and benefit from it. At the dawn of our species, we learned to summon the god at will, calling it forth with sparking flint or the friction of sticks. With it’s aid we became like it, a seemingly unstoppable force moving across landscapes and transforming them utterly.

The domestication of fire occurred well over a hundred thousand years before that of any plant or animal, a vast gulf of time throughout which people gathered around their cooked meals and lingered at their primitive hearths, telling stories in the dark. After the stories, I imagine some of them stayed up just a little bit longer, as we do even now, gazing silently into the shimmering glow of the coals. To this day adults and children alike will stare into a campfire as avidly as any TV drama, evidence of our deep evolutionary connection to the god.

The very idea of domesticated fire suggests its counterpart; wildfire. This summer the Carlton Complex Fire in north central Washington burned 400 square miles and destroyed over 300 homes. It is the worst wildfire in the state’s history. Don’t expect the record to last. Increasingly devastating wildfires in the American west point like a weather vane to the impacts of global climate change. Climate change itself is the direct result of other forests burning, eons of forests that thrived and grew long before humans walked the earth, and which we now burn in the form of oil and coal.

The paintings I’ve done so far constitute the initial notes for a visual essay on the subject. My goal is to explore a wide range of imagery, not just fire itself in its many forms (and there are far more of them than I have had a chance to tackle). Images will also include the impacts of fire, the charred remains of forests and homes, as well as the tools and equipment we use to create, control and extinguish fire. I hope to pursue images of the oil and coal industries that provide the fuel for fire’s most modern form, as well as the engines and power plants, like steel bottles, in which we trap the genie god to do our bidding.

The paintings will be in two formats as you see here; some large to monumental canvases reflecting fire’s power and impact, like my 4 foot by nearly 10 foot depiction of the aftermath of the Cascade Creek Fire on Mt. Adams in 2012. The majority however will be smaller studies on paper reflecting the intimacies of fire, it’s beguiling beauty, it’s haunting touch on personal experience and the seemingly innocuous banality of all the oddments and objects in our lives that serve to remind us of the fire god’s omnipresent nature.

My ambition is not simply to describe the dangers of fire, nor merely to document our collective fascination with it. It is about both of these things. More specifically it is about the inextricable link between the two. For good and ill, using fire is simply what human beings do. The paintings are meant to work as a meditation on this fact. We need fire. Without it we would not exist. And we love fire. It compels us in unfathomable ways. But we fear it too. And rightfully so. Humans have, at various times and places, considered fire both the purest way to deal with death and the cruelest way to inflict it.

Fire is our first and oldest god. Now we have unearthed the fuel of untold millennia to feed it. And it has grown. We need to understand our connection to fire, our deep and unremitting dependence on it, more than ever. We need to understand that in the end it controls us as much we control it. Fire is a god that can never be truly domesticated. If we are not careful, that which helped create us and to this day grants us almost all of our power, may also destroy us.

-David Carmack Lewis
August 2014
Burn (Cascade Creek Fire - Mt. Adams 2012)  oil on canvas  114" x 48"
Fire study no. 10  oil on paper  12" x 16"

Thursday, July 3, 2014

More fire

A bunch of new fire scans...
all are 12" x 16"  oil on paper

Forest fire no.2
Abandoned House no.1
Controlled Burn no.1
Controlled Burn no.2
Controlled Burn no.3
Brush Pile burn no.2

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A god in the Hearth

Here's my first draft artist statement ffor my September show at Attic Gallery, a visual essay on fire...

"Burn (Cascade Creek Fire - Mt. Adams - 2012)"  oil on canvas  48" x 114"
In the greek myth Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans so that we could be like them. But it seems to me that fire itself is like a god. At the dawn of becoming who and what we are, human beings learned to summon this god at will. With it’s aid we became like it, a seemingly unstoppable force moving across the land, capable of transforming it utterly. The domestication of fire occurred well over a hundred thousand years earlier than any plant or animal, a vast gulf of time throughout which people gathered around their cooked meals and lingered at the primitive hearth, telling stories in the dark. After the stories I imagine some of them stayed up just a little bit longer, as we do even now, gazing silently into the shimmering glow of the coals. The fires we build at home or in campfire rings stir the echoes of this ancient history.

In October 2013, at the Playa residency program in eastern Oregon, I began a series of paintings exploring this complex relationship between fire and human beings. These paintings constitute a visual essay about the intimate role that fire plays in our lives. At it’s center is a large portrait of the remnants of a forest fire (the Cascade Creek Burn on Mt. Adams in 2012), four feet high by nine and a half feet long. Surrounding this will be small works on paper (12” x 16”). Many of these are close up studies of fires, their embers and coals. Others may relate more indirectly to fire. They may be night scenes lit by the ghostly light of an unseen fire or objects that may have some relationship to fire.

Fire remains at the center of our lives, perhaps now more than ever, even if we don’t often see it. By burning plants that grew eons before we existed, we've coerced it to carry us around in cars and light up our cities at night. We may have learned to summon it at will, trap it and contain it, yet we cannot completely control it. The Increasing and increasingly devastating wildfires, especially here in the American west, are due in no small part to all that hidden burning, our carbon boot print stamped onto the face of the planet's climate system. 

These paintings are not intended to offer any opinion on our use of fire. That would be like having an opinion on human nature. For good and ill using fire is simply what we do. The paintings are meant to work as a meditation on this fact, a reflection on the intensity and complexity of our relationship to it. We need fire. Without it we would not exist. And we love fire. It compels us in unfathomable ways. But we fear it too. And rightfully so. In this way it is like a god, perhaps our first and oldest god. Now we have unearthed untold millennia of fuel to feed it. And it has grown. Now more than ever we must recognize that this god is not truly domesticated after all.

"Fire Study no. 11" oil on paper  12" x 16"

Monday, June 30, 2014

Studio Visit vol. 25

This arrived in the mail this weekend.

My statement/blurb on the left page is as follows:
"In my work I re-imagine the world around me, changing the light, altering objects, placing them where they don't belong, using the unexpected to trigger a narrative instinct. It is through story and metaphor, the oldest tools of art, that we both create and comprehend the new."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Forest Fire no.1

oil on paper  12" x 16"  2014

I need to catch up on scanning my recent paintings for my fire show this Septemeber. Here's one:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Abandoned homes

Out in the rural west we're used to seeing old tractors and other farm equipment rusting aways in fields where they first ceased to function. Almost everywhere outside of cities and suburbs people are familiar with the sight of old tireless cars resting atop cinder blocks until they slowly rust away. In rural areas the fate of large objects too heavy to remove or too difficult to repair are left as testaments to a recent past that gradually fades into the distance. But until I visited Virginia last week, where I had grown up, I never realized how often this happened to the houses there. When there's enough room there is apparently little point in tearing down an old unwanted structure when the residents pass away. Too much effort. Too much cost. A new house can be built, if anyone even wants the land, on some other part of the property. And so first the weeds grow up over it and then gradually those die off as the trees take over. Driving down the country roads with the brambled cover of mixed oak and pine on either side it's easy to simply focus on the road ahead. But in winter when the branches are bare, if you take the effort to glance aside now and then, you might notice these relics lurking a little ways off, slowly folding their memories away into the growing forest.

I've an idea that these would make some fine subjects for a few paintings.

photos taken in Lancaster County, Virginia

Sunday, March 9, 2014

At the Clymer Museum

The opening of "The Northwest Experience" at the Clymer Museum in Ellensburg Washington was quite nice. The turnout was pretty impressive, the museum itself quite cool, and the bottle store next to my Motel 6 had the most amazing beer selection I think I've ever seen. All in all it was fun overnight trip.

My piece "fire study no. 11"
a bemused spectator of the first Friday crowd
moon over Ellensburg

Thursday, March 6, 2014


So it was weird. Usually when someone contacts me via email about my art all out of the blue, as it were, it's usually some kind of scam. Apparently it's not too hard to soak artists of what little money they have with a promise of career boosting promotion. But this turned out not to be a little different. And now I've got six pieces available as prints or as cell phone and laptop covers. Which is kind of cool.

 Turns out they saw my work on a site I sometimes follow called In December they had a contest of sorts and asked artists to post their work in the comment thread. The top "comments" would be featured on the blog. So I played the social networking game, posted my piece "Barricade" (or was it "Playhouse"? I posted one then it got lost somehow and then posted the other) then got on Facebook to tell people to bump me up. So thanks everyone who did that. Guess it paid off. Booooooom never featured my work but the guy at Gelaskins contacted me after seeing it there and now, here we are.

I have to admire their business model quite frankly. It's almost like a soft scam. They find new artist to feature on their skins, the artists hype the stuff, and they get a flurry of new sales. The 12.5% licensing fee for the skins is standard for the industry but won't amount to much money for me. Still, it's kind of fun, and I'm glad to finally be able to offer some people a few prints (even better at 20%). There's always a lot more people who enjoy my work than can possibly afford an original.

you can check out the stuff here: