My American Dream: City of Angels
The Phoenix Lights: Still from a video taken by Mike Kryston, 10 pm, March 13, 1997, 2024 Oil on linen 60 × 85 in. (152.4 × 215.9 cm)
The Phoenix Lights: Still from a video taken by Mike Kryston, 10 pm, March 13, 1997, 2024
Oil on linen 60 × 85 in. (152.4 × 215.9 cm)

The Phoenix Lights is an image taken from a frame from the famous video of the “second wave” phenomena of the Phoenix Lights from 1997. On March 13th of that year, the first UFO that tens of thousands of people witnessed was a boomerang shaped shadow, with lights underneath, sliding silently over the night sky soon after 8 pm, moving slowly from the north to the south, with sightings not only from Phoenix, but in its trajectory over Arizona from Phoenix and Tuscan.  This second phenomena which too was witness by many, including by Mike Kryston recorded for posterity in video from his backyard, was floating orbs of orange lights appearing in a line, over the city, which then disappeared, in a separate order, while keeping their alignment and slow side moving trajectory.  The Airforce tried to explain away the phenomena by saying they were military flares from a plane—but flares drop at different rates from parachutes and not from the distance recorded—in a perfect line. This video has been included in in many documentaries and news and networks from all around the world. 

There was an onslaught of disturbed and excited populace who demanded answers, and the phones for 911 and other calls were overwhelming.  It was one of the most seen and famous examples of mass UFO sightings in history.  The huge balls of amber lights were documented by many, appearing in lines and formation as if they were on a single craft, an eerie silence as if time were stopped was felt by the witnesses, different from any planes and in formation, too close to one another to be helicopters or planes and too bright to be drones, becoming one of the most iconic sitings.  Many pilots saw the lights along with civilians (some who saw the triangle shape of the first phenomena just 30 feet above their heads) and the government had the infamous coverup of “the flare theory” (which also leave prominent smoke trails not seen here).   The then Arizona Governor Fife Symington held a contentious press conference soon, thereafter, having one of his people dressed in an alien Halloween costume that he demasks, in attempt to squelch people’s anxieties and fervor.  But he has since “come out” that he, a former Air Force pilot, witnessed the “breathtaking” “huge craft” coming over Piesta Peak, unlike anything he has ever seen—unquestionably a UFO in his own words.

Now that the government has admitted the existence of UFO’s, we are in an amazing moment in history.  We know the world isn’t flat, nor is it the center of the universe, and we have to finally admit, after decades of disinformation and conspiracy coverups, that the existence of UFO’s (or UAP’s—Unidentified Ariel Phenomena as they are now called to sidestep the baggage of the UFO term over the years) is real—the Pentagon, Air Force pilots, and testimonies to Congress by credible official people have admitted this.  The agnostic approach is to say that we don’t know WHAT literally they are—not little grey aliens from outer space piloting them necessarily—but there are strange objects moving around our airspace, that perform in ways for which our current technology can’t account for or explain. 

I love Turner, and the way he would work with the current science of his day to create scenes from nature to be able to understand and render with exactitude the weather and movements of nature in his landscapes, but also Cézanne and how he would render his Mont Sainte Victoire allowing for his unconscious to guide his brush, mapping onto the strangeness of far-away forms his subconscious memories and dreamworlds.  I also love the Hudson River School artists, making history paintings of landscapes that were imbued with the fantasies of Westward expansion (for better or for worse!).  Here, I chose a frame from the famous video the Phoenix Lights in a documentary about that seemed to have the best compositional alignment and “real” color from the actual video and printed it out large and glossy on my high-res printer.  It was a monochromatic image from the vintage 90’s video and camera taken at night, and there was a lot of “noise” on the surface of the image as the old camera was trying to focus on the lights. I love painting the pixels and the noise as if it is “real”, and like Cézanne, using this to map what my unconscious brings to the image.  I learned long ago when painting a historic photo from the James Dean crash site (a promised gift to LACMA) that when working from historical photos, there feels to be a lot of energy surrounding the elements of the image.  Not that I am a “medium” “channeling” anything, but looking at images like this, which have been pondered by millions of people, there is a certain energy that gets transmuted when I’m painting that translates to the painterliness of the image.

When painting, I try to focus my right brain by having my left brain listen to audiobooks and music playlists while I render.  For this, I was listening in part to the 2011 book UFO’s: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record by Leslie Kean, who helped to break the bombshell reporting about UAPS and our government’s knowledge and involvement that was in the historic article from Dec. 16, 2017 “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O Program” that was the first major article to reveal their acknowledgement and involvement with the phenomena.  I also listened to music that inspired me about the phenomena and what that moment might have been like, such as Brian Eno’s great “Apollo:; Atmospheres and Soundtracks”, that was the original soundtrack for the documentary For All Mankind about the first Apollo astronauts, along with the music of Phillip Glass and more.

When my mind’s eye starts to see forms and figures in the noise, I realize this is in part my mind cognizing and organizing the information it is trying to read by relatable memory iconic motifs: faces, eyes, forms.  I try my best not to further “illustrate” what I see, but bring out from the original photographic image what truly seems to be “there”. Of course, I realize I have aliens, space and other worlds on my mind, and try to let my mind flow in whatever direction it seems to pulsate while not being too cheesy or stereotypical as I’m channeling into the image, hoping for transcendence and the big meanings of the ineffable sublime to emerge, like being witness through the photo of the actual event that captivated so many.