Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ideal Lunar Landscapes

"Ideal Lunar Landscapes" is the title of my solo show at Rivermont Studio. The title comes from the caption below one of the plates from the 1874 book "The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite" written by James Carpenter and James Nasmyth. I was introduced to the book during graduate school and it has been on my mind ever since. I like how Nasmyth created the images of lunar landscapes by building and photographing plaster models based on his observations of the Moon seen through his telescope.

Some time after making "Walk-in Crater", I realized that I had stumbled into the territory of landscape painting. I began to re-read the history of landscape painting, reacquainting myself with the variety of ways of seeing the relationship between humans and nature. When I was offered an opportunity to show my work at Rivermont Studio, I decided I wanted to make a series of paintings and contraptions using a language of landscape painting to picture the Moon. But which language to choose? How might a landscape painter make images of new worlds and new frontiers?  

My palette for painting lunar landscapes begins to look like a landscape itself.
I soon settled on drawing inspiration from Albert Bierstadt's large-scale paintings of the American western frontier. Part of the appeal of Bierstadt's paintings is the fact that they are fictions. Even though Bierstadt twice accompanied expeditions to the west and saw the geography there first-hand, the finished paintings are composite images based on sketches, embellished with his mastery of portraying light and atmosphere.  

Bierstadt's paintings of the west offer a distinctly American way of looking at land and space. Portraying U.S. westward expansion as a pre-ordained inevitability, Bierstadt's paintings function as trophies for the railroad companies who commissioned Bierstadt to make images of the land conquered by the Transcontinental Railroad ("Donner Lake From the Summit", 1873 is a good example). The paintings also function as advertisements for tourists, showing the view that could be seen from the comfort of a train.  

My new paintings and contraptions combine the approaches of Nasmyth and Bierstadt, two masters of constructing landscapes. The images of the Moon in my exhibition are based on images of Nasmyth's plaster models of the lunar surface rather than images of the Moon from NASA. Elements from Bierstadt's landscape paintings are incorporated into the Nasmyth images to investigate how an American vision of land and space might be applied to new frontier lands such as the Moon.   

"Ideal Lunar Landscapes" is on view at Rivermont Studio, February 1 -- March 10, 2013.  More information about the gallery can be found under "News" on my website.

"Panorama of an Ideal Lunar Landscape" under construction.