My American Dream (Marlborough)
Copper Mountain, 2015 Oil on linen 48 × 72 inches
Copper Mountain, 2015
Oil on linen 48 × 72 inches

Copper Mountain is specifically a painting from my own photo of Jacque Peak, at the ski resort in Colorado where I grew up skiing every weekend and where we had a condo, coming up from the suburbs to be with family and friends. I rarely ski these days, and we made special post-Christmas plan to go back to Copper, and have the experience we remember so much growing up. It was different—we are all older, and with climate change, the snow felt a little crustier, the crowds less, and it really felt as if the ozone layer was more thin— the sun and its beams penetrating. It was exalting to re-experience skiing downhill with my Dad and sister and to have the muscle memory of so many experiences of childhood.

I had always thought that the theme of "man vs. nature" was of monolithic importance, especially more so now we are in a period of global warming. What better than to create an image, not of a mountain as they would in the time of the Hudson River School, but of a ski resort? But skiing puts you so much in touch with nature and the sublime phenomena of feeling such a small part of a vast world—it puts us more in touch with who we are and our responsibility towards the earth. And the truly majestic heights it sends us to when we are at the tops of the elevated peaks is still astounding. Also different than the days of pleine-air paintings, and the sublime work of Turner, Friedrich, and landscape painting in general, is how we are able to capture our reality with digital photography that allows for more all-over detail and aspects like the contemporary lens flare of a camera.

I also like the theme of climbing summits, and what it means to strive to reach them. Mountains are immortal, and the idea of the peaks having a conversation with the celestial sky is a simple but powerful notion of our earthly ways conversing with the heavens.

The Mount Sainte-Victoire paintings by Cézanne seem to ruminate on some of these themes to me, too. I wonder if he is thinking of the mystery and majesty of that mountain, but also his childhood and personal world when he made those works, allowing his subconscious to map onto what he is seeing, and allowing his unconscious to "spill out" into the imagery along with his conscious hand as he is thinking his thoughts. I do think for painters that still paint with a brush that is something we can bring to table—that with each stroke of our brush, our conscious minds are recording what we want and see, but simultaneously, our unconscious minds channel unseen forces of emotion and unconsciously derived imagery that brings a sublimated power to the work. With high resolution digital photography, I’m able to discern in micro managed ways formal relationships that earlier artists didn’t have access to, and have those moments serve as a model for my unconscious to work from. Picasso once said when you draw a circle without an aid of a compass, how it’s not like a circle is what is "most you" about it, and/or when you are painting from the Old Masters (like a student at the louver) how it’s not like the Old Masters is what is "you" about the painting. How my paintings aren’t like the photos I’m using is what is "me about it," and I hope that the work has a "life of its own" that transcends its subject matter and the conceptual ideas around the project.

To put me in the meditative mood to project this into the work, I played music and listen to subject matter that helps to direct my thoughts. For this painting, I listened to the Walkman soundtrack of my youth that I played skiing— also listened to Mount Olympus-like Rolling Stone "Top 100" albums. I thought of the many coming of age experiences of my youth growing up in the mountains of my childhood, and contemporary times. I truly felt like the figure next to the tiny red shack in the center of the image, feeling a small being on a mountain of cultural time, humbled by being a part of an earth so close to the sky.