Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A God In The Hearth

Fire Study #20 oil on paper  12" x 16"
I first began to think deeply about the relationship between human beings and fire in October of 2013 while at the Playa Artist Residency Program in eastern Oregon. The residency lies at the foot of a steep escarpment called Winter Ridge on the shores of the shallow alkaline Summer Lake. It is a wide open high desert landscape, populated more by cattle than people and not many of either. All along the steep slopes of the ridge 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 and light of a large stone fireplace while snow whirled and blew outside. The contrast between the wildfire that had swept this landscape (and which had come very close to destroying the property on which I stayed) and it’s comforting cousin in the hearth before me, became a focus of contemplation. 

The paintings in this exhibit are the beginning of an ongoing visual essay exploring our deep connection to fire and the impacts of fossil fuels. Without fire we would not even exist. Cooking food allowed our guts to shrink enabling us to walk upright, and our caloric hungry brains to grow ever larger. Using fire we became like it, sweeping across landscapes and transforming them utterly. In it’s varied forms we simultaneously love fire and fear it. But all too often, at our peril, we take it for granted. To make matters worse the fires that fuel modern life are largely hidden. For millenia the hearth fire was the center of social life, a source not only of nourishment but of light in the dark and warmth in the cold. But now most of our fire is locked away in engines and power plants, sealed up like a genie in a bottle and made to do our bidding. 

"Burn (Cascade Creek fire, Mt. Adams WA 2012)"  48" x 114"
These paintings compare traditional fires and fireplaces to the hidden fires in engines and power plants. Comparisons are also drawn between coal and wood, a reminder that fossil fuels are essentially fossil landscapes from a time eons before human beings existed. One ironic result of their use may well be an increase in wildfires on today’ s landscapes, especially in the American West. The work as a whole is meant to remind us of the primacy of fire in our lives, and to make us consider both the necessity and the difficulty of weaning ourselves from this dependency. For as our hidden hearths blaze merrily away the climate of the planet is changing as a direct result. 

Just because we don’t see the flames doesn’t mean the world isn’t burning.

October 2015
"Four studies of the Coal Fired Power Plant at Boardman OR"
oil on paper  12" x 16" each