land scape land


There was a time when you couldn't pay me to do a landscape painting. They seemed like the default painting subject, after vases of flowers and bowls of fruit. Even the standard naked lady was more interesting. I grew up in the Hudson Valley in southern New York, home to the Hudson River School of painters, who, in the romantic period of the nineteenth century, sought to celebrate the sublime by painting immense landscapes of the area, and of other grand vistas around the USA. Needless to say, they were the subject of many a school trip. So maybe that was what turned me off to landscape painting. There is also, to be honest, something distasteful to me about the macho, plein-air painter swaggering around the countryside.

To be fair, though, when you live in a place as beautiful as the Hudson Valley, I suppose landscapes become part of you.
Even if you don't live here, landscapes are part of you.
There are, after all, landscapes everywhere.
Even inside your head. Especially inside your head.

It's something I've been thinking about--the landscapes that exist inside the psyche, how feelings and memories can be imagined and depicted as places, and how places or images of places can evoke certain feelings. Typically, for me, these places are represented by images of the natural(ish) world, usually involving trees and expanses of land. Lately, I've been particularly liking fields. Particularly fields bordered by dark trees, which is likely owed to the fact that all the fields around here are bordered by trees, this being the deciduous-forest-covered Eastern seaboard. Around here, woods are the normal natural state, and fields are something of a break from that. There may be a psychological reason for this, too, with fields representing the known and the visible, and the woods representing the unknown and the hidden (something that may have informed the Woods series as well).

The top image is a painting I made in 2009 called The Discovery of a False Moon. It is based on a photograph I took on a field in New Paltz, NY, where I went to school. It was daylight, and the clover was blooming. There was a university building across the street with a clock that lit up at night, and at first glance resembled the full moon. Lots of stand oil, very shiny. Next is a typical view off my back porch in early September. You can see the Hudson River in a small silver sliver (say that 5 times fast) near the middle. Next is a shot of Croton Point Park in Croton, NY. The park sticks out into the water, and there is a big artificial hill that is actually a capped garbage dump. Since the soil is not deep, no trees can grow, and so the land on the hill is completely different than the surrounding land, this big, arid bump surrounded by woods. You can see the normal ecosystem across the water. The last two shots were taken about a week ago in Rockwood Hall, which is part of the Rockefeller Preserve in Sleepy Hollow, NY. Early evening, as the park was closing and all the deer were out. They look up for pictures if you call them.

What I like about all of these images is their composition. It's classically bad. If you notice, they all have a horizon line in just about the middle of the image. Apparently, you aren't supposed to do that. But the photographs came out that way unintentionally (swear). And anyway, that's how vistas are seen by humans--there's above and there's below and they meet in the middle. Therefore False Moon and other, later paintings have a horizon line than generally bisects the painting. Later landscapes also have the phenomenon of the floating trees, which I will get into later.