My American Dream: Mystery Train
Three Mile Island, 2017 oil on linen 32 × 48 in. | 81.3 × 121.9 cm
Three Mile Island, 2017
oil on linen 32 × 48 in. | 81.3 × 121.9 cm

My childhood best friend Dan loved power and industry, factories and machines. He offered to help my husband and I move from NYC to Southern California last August, 2016, and volunteered to drive a large moving van with me and all of our stuff included across the country (my husband was waiting on the other side in CA). Part of the deal was that this was going to be a photographic journey, and he was to help guide our route. Tragically, Dan died in an auto accident last spring, months later after he drove he and I, quite carefully and diligently across the country, and this show is dedicated in his loving memory. He was an artist, a photographer that graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology and later, we went to Southern California together to get our MFA’s, his from Art Center in Pasadena, mine at University of Southern California, Irvine. Our trip was an artist’s journey together, and like Gauguin and Van Gogh, we were going to take pictures together of the same scenes to create art, very consciously and we spoke about me making paintings for this show from our journey. Dan realized that my Sony A7 camera that had a wide angle lens that was taking advantage of the full sensor capabilities of the unit, and configured the settings to have the entire aperture of the lens revealed in the final image, hence the framing device of the circle, which reminds me of fade out screens in silent movies, perfect for these images of glimpses of American in homage to Dan but also the USA that hopefully we aren’t losing in our current era.

Three Mile Island was one of the first stops on our journey, and as you can see in the painting, it was a strange, bathetic, but also weirdly beautiful place (like Skull Island, in the King Kong movies?!). Foliage has grown up around the structures, but seem tweaked and surreal, like as in a science fiction movie of another world. One of the towers I believe is still functioning, but is due to close soon (or maybe not, given our current administration). I love Monet, but also Gursky and the Bechers, and wanted to achieve the bucolic abstractions of Monet (and Cézanne, who I always feel was able to project his unconscious unto the picture plane he was consciously rendering), but with a gravitas of the politics of post modernity, realizing the allegory of man’s hubris in this hyperbolic ode to power gone wrong. I also love American Modernism, and was consciously thinking of the Precisionists (Demuth’s My Egypt!) when creating this—those tight lipped homosexuals loved American Industry, and regaled it almost to abstraction in their sumptuous, important images, but whilst at the same time negating the workers, the proletariats that seldom appear in their paintings (although the sailor scenes of Demuth’s watercolors are homoerotically fantastic!). These workers were still much exploited, starting to form unions, but are left out of the homage to American Industry and Power. I wanted, in this picture (especially with the wires helping to abstract the image) to hearken to them, the Hudson River School, and the rest who romanticized to a political degree America–as I love them and the USA, too, but also realize, especially in our time, the egress into the damaging conflicts of “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

I also believe in the power of the icon, as Scott McCloud, coming from Spiegelman, discusses in his book Understanding Comics. I chose an image that very much to me looks like an anthropomorphized landscape, as in the days they did this during the time of Bruegel, where landscapes could take the animated forms of people and faces. But the displacement here, the transferal, is nuclear power as a substitute for nuclear war, its ugly head rising again in the time of Trump and his threats, and the threat, of North Korea and the rest. Painting this picture it was very much on the news, and beyond the tracks of my dear friend Dan going to the land of the departed, the nightmare of nuclear war has become a clear and present danger.