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For the last year, I have been collecting burnt debris from wildfires--or perhaps more accurately, urban-interface zone fires-- in the western United States and using them as drawing tools to create large-scale 'paintings' of pure carbon that are to serve as markers of a changing climate and exist in memoriam of the consequences of human habitation on the planet. I have collected from sites such as the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, California, and the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, and use the debris as drawing tools, saturating large scale canvases with the material end result of these devastating events that can often be as political as there are "natural". I think of them as landscape paintings of the new American West, and overwhelming visualizations of a large-scale systems change. The last few fire seasons have made history, and transformer-induced blazes have leveled entire towns. The full-circle coal to carbon process is a lot comprehend, and short of the horrific images of huge swaths of land burning can be difficult to keep in the mind's eye. Bearing witness to the burn scars myself post-fire is very impacting, telling, and allows me to document and understand from the ground.
Landscape painting has long sought to idealize territories, often for expansionist purposes and this was particularly true in the American context. The paradises depicted in the paintings were both harbingers of the consequences to follow and denials of the ensuing realities of colonization and settlement, resource extraction, land management, and land ownership. The romantic landscapes of the west have been permanently parceled, altered, scarred, and claimed which begs the question of whether pristine wilderness and our notions of paradise exist at all. Smelling of smoke and shedding ash, these are landscape paintings of the world's new frontiers/rainforests/outback made of its spent lands.