In my log paintings, I examine the contrivances found in landscape paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries. These landscapes, by artists such as Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church, were deeply rooted in the political constructs of the time and depicted the land as a bountiful Eden, a limitless frontier ripe for conquest. I take these images out of their familiar context, the framed canvas, and paint directly on wood slices with bark intact. These landscapes appear as an homage to the idyllic art of the Hudson River School yet, by viewing the painting’s surface, the cross section of a tree, any sense of nostalgia or celebration of nature is countered by the evidence of its destruction.
My series about Hawai‘i, my childhood home, combines the genre of landscape with the decorative arts to create paintings, sculptures and installations that explore the islands’ complex identity: a synthesis of native culture, tropical Eden, and site for commercialism and profit. This work includes wallpapers that depict lush florals choking out endemic species, a Zen-like fountain that examines issues of water and riparian rights, and a fishing net chronicling a family’s history and past way of life once based on an intimate relationship with the ocean.
My work reveals how idealized images of the land shape our concept of the natural world – in essence, how our experiences are mediated by the mechanisms of art and culture. Painters throughout art history from the Northern Song, Baroque, Rococo and Hudson River School tailored their depictions of nature to serve an artistic narrative. Today, photoshopped images of verdant forests and unspoiled beaches invite us to vacation and sightsee, providing a false sense of assurance that the wilderness will always exist. By exploring idealized views of nature, my work acknowledges our more complex and precarious relationship with the environment.