My American Dream: City of Angels
“Best Photograph of a UFO Ever Taken”: Costa Rica 1971 by Sergio Loaiza, 2024 Oil on linen 60 × 112 in. (152.4 × 284.48 cm)
“Best Photograph of a UFO Ever Taken”: Costa Rica 1971 by Sergio Loaiza, 2024
Oil on linen 60 × 112 in. (152.4 × 284.48 cm)

Leslie Kean, who is a leading UFO expert in the United States (and who helped to break the famous disclosure article in the New York Times in the 2017 historic article from Dec. 16, 2017 “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O Program” that was the first major news item to reveal their acknowledgement and involvement with the phenomena) believes this is the “best photograph of a UFO ever taken”.  It was taken in 1971 by a surveyor and aerial photographer Sergio Loaiza, flying 10,000 feet over Lake Cote in Costa Rica in his job to survey the land on behalf of the National Geographic Costa Rica to study the potential impact of the construction of a hydroelectric project, which was being planned near the Arenal Volcano near the lake.  For his survey, he took many high-res black and white photos of the lake and surrounding rain forest from an altitude of 3,000 meters at 20-second intervals with his automated 100lb camera situated on the bottom of his Aero Commander F680 aircraft.  He was surprised noticing, that at about 8:25 in the morning, in just one of the photos, on the left side of one of the frames, a shiny metallic disc appears (and nowhere else in any of his images.  National Geographic and him realized the anomaly, and he thought this couldn’t be a technical glitch, but National Geographic owned the image, and made him suppress any news about it, although the word got out, and the nephew of a man working with a UFO research group UAP Media obtained a contact copy of the original negative in the National Archives of Costa Rica was able to have it recently rescanned, where the image is made even more clear, estimated to be between 120-220 feet in diameter.

UAP Media says on its website:

“Over the years the image has been analyzed by various experts such as Costa Rican UFO researcher Ricardo Vílchez, Dr Richard Haines and Dr Jacques Vallée. They all concluded that the object in the photograph appeared real and was NOT the result of double exposure or a deliberate fabrication”.

As the original image is black and white, I found on Google Earth the exact location of where it appeared, and used this for color reference, in addition to getting the details of the movement of water in the lake.  The only thing I “invented” was the shadow of the disc in the water, which I thought was good to balance the image and compositionally to suggest its movement towards—or away from—the land mass.  Also, although the original negative appears in this orientation, it is flipped from how it appears in the natural landscape, but enjoyed this effect as it reminded me of the Pacific coastline of the ocean to California, to making it more relatable to this “chapter” of My American Dream.  I also enjoyed painting the edge of the negative, to indicate that this is a fragment from a whole negative photo image—and the saucer was so close to the edge as to almost be cut off (and like a strange figurative silhouette profile looking onto the scene.).

I love the anthropomorphized landscapes of the early Renaissance artists all the way to Thomas Cole, who sometimes transformed the mountains of his landscapes into faces and figurative forms.   I’m also a big fan of Van Gogh, Cézanne, and the modernist painters who were able to transmute what they saw in nature alongside their unconscious thoughts and gestures, making an inner world as palatable and “real” in the plastic space of the picture plane as oil paint can make anything representational. DaVinci said that a painter paints themselves, I believe that he meant sometimes when an artist creates a portrait it looks more like the artist than the person they are trying to portray, but I also think our inner mind’s eye of our visage spills through the brush when we are deep in the meditation of painting, focusing on areas and trying to make sense of the detail (especially all the complicated micromanaging in details from nature!).  If you look at the center of Cézanne’s, there is what I call a “Cézanne hole” where his face must have been in the center of his work as he is painting—and like a reverse mask of his face appears-eyes, beard, teeth—in the landscape.  Look at Van Gogh’s cypress trees and landscapes, and sometimes you see his face, eyes, nose, beard intact unconsciously projected into the trees!  Here, as I was looking at the black and white high-res scan, and translating into color, I would see eyes and more in the forms (also thinking about the sci-fi allegory of the work in general) and wanted to bring this out without illustrating them).  In this section of the exhibition, the idea is that there is a “panorama” of paintings of both UFO sightings and National Parks, with the allegory in mind of “if we don’t take care of our planet—and flora and fauna upon it—perhaps the UFO’s will—and we probably don’t want this to happen!”.  Having the landscape anthropomorphized for me promotes the idea of (sorry for the gender code!) “Mother Earth” or at least, in the American Transcendentalist spirit I’m influenced by, how everything in nature is alive, and perhaps they are happy that the UFO is watching out for nature and our Earth!

Adam Weinberg, former Director of the Whitney Museum, says I’m a history painter, which I like.  I’m proud that I have three paintings (and four drawings!) in the collection, including my 9-11 painting that was featured in their inaugural show.  For that work, very bittersweetly, it depicts the second plane about to hit the second tower, on a day that I personally witnessed (with my students in Washington Park!).  Although it was with a heavy heart I was honored to have the work installed, and the edifying thing was to see people pointing at the painting, talking about their stories, telling their children, and being moved by the work.   This painting, while wholly different, is compositionally similar, with a flying ship heading towards land, but also, as a “history painting”—after all, this is the “best photo of a UFO ever taken” and now we know—as the government and Pentagon admits—UFO’s are “real”—this image might have a place in history.   I feel that with history painting, our job is to bring warmth, light, and color into the work, as if you are recreating the scene for people to not only contemplate, but also to feel synesthetically what it must have been like to be at the scene of that event and time.  Hopefully there is something also gently ironic about creating a painting—slowing down time—of an instantaneous moment that it must have been for the plane to take this picture before the UFO slipped away.  I have taught comics for my entire career teaching fine art and exhibiting, and I love integrating comics motif’s into works—here, very subtle “action lines” are to the left of the UFO to help indicate movement, and I also, especially with the waves in the water, wanted the brush lines of my paint to emulate the movement of the water brushing towards the shore, the clouds waving in their approval of the UFO, and so on.  I hope this helps to reinvigorate this old black and white image, albeit having a second life online as a high-res scan now that UFO’s—or UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, a new government term to get over the negative stereotypes the government created for UFO’s and their “believers”) are now considered legitimate!  Google “UFO congress” to see amazing recent testimonials to our Congress about this phenomenon—and with senators from across the aisle becoming believers based on the overwhelming evidence and authority of those presenting.  This is an exciting moment in history–the agnostic approach is to say we don’t know where they are from, or what they are—literally they are unidentified, but the Earth isn’t flat, nor is it the center of our universe, and UFOs are real.