My American Dream: Mystery Train
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California in 1903, 2017 oil on linen 13 × 20 in. | 34.3 × 50.8 cm
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California in 1903, 2017
oil on linen 13 × 20 in. | 34.3 × 50.8 cm

I went to Yosemite for the first time with my family for last Christmas (2016) along with my husband Andrew, and was struck by its sublime natural beauty, and for all that it is famous. Thinking about the threatened ecology under the current administration, I created my Yosemite in Winter series, inspired by how in Japanese screens Winter can symbolize death, or an end of a cycle—and hope that Yosemite and our other National Parks and wilderness won’t fall into a certain everlasting death with Global Warming. I felt a great responsibility to carry forth the ideology and aesthetics of Ansel Adams and more—artists who create images of our parks in order to do their part of bringing their majesty to the masses—in a way that is more proactive and productive than the Hudson River School—and of course its thanks to John Muir and his colleagues who helped make these great American places into National Parks in the first place.

This is from a stereoscopic card for viewing with a Stereoscope, a 19-century tradition to create 3D like illusion starting from a pair of 2D images, a stereogram. When looking through the novelty apparatus of a viewer, the pair of photos taken at a slightly different view and perspective combines in the brain to have depth. I wonder with these images if they were taken at slightly different times, as it seems that Roosevelt and Muir were in the midst of deep conversation on the top of Overhanging Rock at the top of Glacier Point, and indeed the images were taken on a famous camping trip where conservationist and environmentalist John Muir camped in a hollow there with Roosevelt to awake to five inches of snow, which delighted the President. Roosevelt had sent a letter to Muir to meet him in Yosemite (“”I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.”). During their time together, Muir spoke of the degradation of the environment, and the endangerment of development, and asked for another layer of protection as a national park to improve management. Muir convinced both Roosevelt and California Governor George Pardee, on that excursion, to recede the state grant and make the Valley and the Mariposa Grove part of Yosemite National Park. This joining together of the 1864 state grant lands with the 1890 national park lands occurred during Roosevelt’s presidency in 1906.

I always think that for even the most strident of conservatives, that they would want the National Parks to survive for their grandchildren and their grandchildren to enjoy, which can initiate the conversation about protecting the entire environment for the future of the earth and humanity. I wish, in these caustic times where the EPA has become so dearly threatened, that people can come to some sanity about how sacred these places and our environment are. Although Roosevelt is a much different kind of Republican than those in our time, it will take visionaries (and artists!) like Muir to help convince the unawaken.


Muir was influenced by the American transcendentalist movement lead by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Muir showed him his hundreds of pencil sketches of peaks and valleys. Emerson thought of Muir as a “new kind of Thoreau” and when they visited the sequoia at Mariposa Grove, Muir said to Emerson “you are yourself a sequoia. Stop and get acquainted with your big brethren”. I like to paint nature as its alive, inspired by this movement and the early American modernists, and to cull from the photos the spirit of the place. I feel that if you are painting from photos post-Richter, that to penetrate the picture plane, using the photo as a talisman for the energy one sees in it (like in the early days of painters using photos for reference, or Cézanne projecting his unconscious onto the views he painted plein air of Mount Sainte-Victoire) can be pertinent once again. Like in this color image (with color bars, from the Library of Congress!) of a black and white stereograph that simulates 3d reality, my job as a painter is to channel this energy and image to make it alive once again, to remind our current times about the vitality and primary importance of our America and National Parks, just after the centennial of their inaugurations.