My American Dream: City of Angels
Cosmic Cliffs: Young Stars’ Outbursts in Carina Nebula as taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, 2024 Oil on linen 60 × 94 in. (152.4 × 238.76 cm)
Cosmic Cliffs: Young Stars’ Outbursts in Carina Nebula as taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, 2024
Oil on linen 60 × 94 in. (152.4 × 238.76 cm)

This is from a now famous image taken by the James Webb Telescope, from 2022, and one of the first to be presented to the public—when President Joe Biden was proudly honoring NASA’s great accomplishment of putting the best telescope into space (that was preceded by the Hubble), this is one of the images that was behind him and became like a poster child for the project.   I hope to be like a history painter, but also love the work of Turner, the Romantics, the Hudson River School, and painters striving for the Kantian sublime in their works. I feel if Turner had access to high-res images of space, he would probably turn there after his amazing maritime works and wanted to record this moment in history.  The sublime in images make us feel so small in the overwhelming grandness of the cosmos, that we objectify ourselves and our world to realize the interconnectedness of all beings. I hope in striving to create such works, we can then recognize the need to help one another, have compassion and empathy for all the flora and fauna on the planet, to survive as a species, in peace and harmony with nature, for our future and for the health of our planet.

From the NASA website page celebrating and presenting the image this painting is based on:

“This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth.

Called the Cosmic Cliffs, Webb’s seemingly three-dimensional picture looks like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening. It is the edge of the giant, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, and the tallest “peaks” in this image are about 7 light-years high. The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image.

The blistering, ultraviolet radiation from the young stars is sculpting the nebula’s wall by slowly eroding it away. Dramatic pillars tower above the glowing wall of gas, resisting this radiation. The “steam” that appears to rise from the celestial “mountains” is hot, ionized gas and hot dust streaming away from the nebula due to the relentless radiation.

Webb reveals emerging stellar nurseries and individual stars that are completely hidden in visible-light pictures. Because of Webb’s sensitivity to infrared light, it can peer through cosmic dust to see these objects. Protostellar jets, which emerge clearly in this image, shoot out from some of these young stars. The youngest sources appear as red dots in the dark, dusty region of the cloud. Objects in the earliest, rapid phases of star formation are difficult to capture, but Webb’s extreme sensitivity, spatial resolution, and imaging capability can chronicle these elusive events.”

This was an almost impossible picture to paint—like the previous image of the Cosmic Cliffs by the Hubble, there is almost no way a human with a brush could hope to paint the nuance and the detail of this magnificent new telescopes ability to see so clearly—but I could try!  For me, how it’s not like a photo is what is “me” about the image, and I feel our job, post Gerhard Richter, is to penetrate into the picture plane with warmth and emotion, to make the space and spirit of the image feel “alive” again, much like when the beginnings of photography allowed painters such as Bonnard and Vuillard the ability to make “all over” paintings by capturing the detail in all the area of an image with more exactitude than en plein air, but with the painterly feeling, and emotion of the artist projecting their own meditation upon the forms that they see.   I’m a big fan too of the anthropomorphized landscape of the early Renaissance all the way to Thomas Cole, who sometimes would have faces and figures in his mountains, and of the way the post impressionists, and the modernists would sometimes project their inner minds and self-portraits to embed unwittingly into the cypress trees of Van Gogh or the Mont Sainte-Victoire’s of Cézanne.  Here, with the incredible sublime of these overwhelming Cosmic Cliffs, I could only hope to engage in the mythos of what is being formed.

While painting, I listened to the audiobook of the great Frank Herbert’s Dune. My husband and I are huge Dune fans, the books and the films (albeit being our generation we love the David Lynch movie way more than the Timothée Chalamet, but of course these are excellent, too!), and the interplanetary scale of the work—and its ecological and political messages woven throughout its cosmology seems pertinent to our times, and the time for which I was painted this work!   I could travel from star to star as the characters were jumping from planets, thinking about the perils of our tumultuous times when trying to remind myself about the smallness of our world within these cosmos (our solar system would be a tiny dot!).  I also use as a kind of “clock” the (2023 version!) of the Rolling Stone magazine “Top 500 albums” and listened to my favorite selection of these (which were many) as I was painting, “counting down” to Number #1 (Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On!) kind of like the 1977 Voyager Space Missions, that sent a gold plated  record of Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode—on Chuck Berry’s greatest hits collection “The Great 28”, currently #51 on the Rolling Stone list!) along with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and the sound of a mother kissing her child and more into space for extraterrestrial life far away to stumble upon and learn about our species. So many memories are embedded, like Proustian madeleines through the talismans of this music and my life that gave me much to ruminate upon as I was suturing into my own astro ship painting this image.

I’m like Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie Contact, who says in the end of the film “I’ll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So, if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space. Right?”  There is no question that in the vastness of space and galaxies there must be intelligent life out there, far beyond what we can comprehend.  In the context of this exhibition, with the panorama of UFO paintings, based on photographs that have yet to be debunked, and the National Parks (which I feel even conservatives must love and want for their grandchildren to enjoy, which can open up the conversation for clean air and water, reversing global warming and taking care of each other and our planet), if UFOs (or UAPs as the government now calls them to get over the stigmatization they caused by falsely debunking UFOs and their believers) are “real” as our Pentagon now admits, have they come from the great beyond?  And if so, why are they here—to save us, or to save our planet from us?  In the great cosmos, if we are just a tiny spec, the interrelatedness of all beings on our planet and taking care of our own mother ship is imperative, but also we are part of the great galactic federation of cosmos, and we better do our part to care for each other and our earth to keep up our responsibility. Made up of stardust, we must be true to the stars that bore us into life.