My American Dream: City of Angels
Joshua Tree, 2024 Oil on linen 60 × 72 in. (152.4 × 182.88 cm)
Joshua Tree, 2024
Oil on linen 60 × 72 in. (152.4 × 182.88 cm)

When planning on this show, as a narrative artist coming from comics thinking about juxtapositions, and how the paintings “talk with one another” like a non-linear montage sequence in a movie, I was thinking of how, like in the Sego Canyon National Park in Utah the “UFO” and “alien” like petroglyphs are juxtaposed to the beauty of the Canyon, how if we don’t take care of our planet, and the people, flora, and fauna upon it, perhaps “they” will (and we probably don’t want that to happen!).

Although my husband and I live in Riverside, near Lake Elsinore, only a couple of hours away from Joshua Tree, we had never visited (kind of how we were in Manhattan for 25 years and never went to the Statue of Liberty!).  I knew I wanted it for this show, as I have already painted Yosemite and other national parks, and given the sci-fi uncanniness of the show, wanted a landscape that felt otherworldly, and central to the Southern California experience.  I had read also that during Covid, when it was less populated and looked after, that horrible people had gone into the park and stole and damaged these ancient and legendary “trees” (giant Yucca plants, but that can live and grow for hundreds of years).

My family was visiting for Christmas in 2023, and I thought it would be a great trip for my then 90-year-old father and I to take when he stayed over with Andrew and I to get a feel for where we live.   Early one day we went off in my Porsche Spyder to the park, which was a fun, if not long (even longer with intense traffic coming back) drive.  Once there, my dad and I took some short walks around the hills of the area (I grew up in Colorado hiking and skiing with my family, and my father is in terrific physical shape), taking photos and ruminating about life.  On the drive through the park, almost towards the end, I saw this fallen tree and immediately pulled over to take the photo this painting was based on.  The fallen Joshua Tree seemed pertinent, melancholic and almost operatic in its sadness, given the history of these great plants, but with new growth surrounding it, and young Joshua Trees in the background growing—the circle of life.

My father is suffering, despite his great physical health, with cognitive decline, a constant source of terrific frustration, especially as he is exceptionally bright and a retired psychiatrist and understands only too well what is happening to him.  While this is a portrait of nature in decline, symbolic of global warming and our disparaging treatment of our beautiful Earth, it also is a personal picture, thinking of our family, time, mortality and immortality of our spirit, with generations giving to other generations (although my sister and I are both gay and childless, it may be the end of the Mayerson line with us?!).

The new Beyoncé album Cowboy Carter had just come out when I was embarking upon this work.  I’m a huge Beyoncé fan (as well as Van Gogh!), and I couldn’t help but listen to the album on constant repeat while painting this.  I love Western Art and would visit the Denver Museum’s amazing collection often—when I was young ignorant of its strengths, but now as an adult, visiting with my folks when I visit, I love looking at these amazing (although politically complicated!) images, and think the landscapes of Bierstadt, Moran, and more never get old, and reach something deep within me.  Riverside also was the teenage home of Jackson Pollock, and at the Mission Inn, where Andrew and I used to for three years, Pollock would visit with his brother Charles and be inspired by their painting collection to become the AbEx artist he became—perhaps the “wildness” of this movement had its roots partly in Western Art (he also was a student of regionalist Thomas Hart Benton!).  In any event, I do hold Western Art at a critical distance, although realize it’s part of my core, kind of like how Beyoncé might feel about country music growing up in Houston—but being Beyoncé!   The spirit of the record, uplifting and recoding genres, and the straight white male patriarchal take on what is normally considered now tragically of Trump country seems redemptive and optimistic.  I’m hoping that spirit is also part of the picture, acknowledging loss, but also optimistically hopeful about the “circle of life” and the future!