Any time you make art, you face constraints. These are either externally given and imposed on you or chosen for whatever reason. Invariably I am constrained to a greater or lesser degree by things like the dimensions of my surface, the shape and size of my brushes and the paint colors I have. To the extent that I have experience with color mixing and persistence in doing so I can mitigate many problems presented by a limited number of starting colors.
I often realize that a particular color scheme resonates with the scene/subject I intend to paint. In this case, the more I worked, the more it occured to me that a secondary color scheme predominated the landscape and Pronghorn. At that point I began to lean toward a more limited palette. This meant using more greens, purples and oranges and trying not to use as many blues, yellows and reds. You will find primary touches here and there, but overall I tried to limit my color choice, in the same way a musician choses a particular key.
I took the photo I worked from for this painting in late December last year. Yellowstone was blanketed with snow at that point, which meant I would have lots of "whites" in this painting. If you look carefully enough and give your eyes time, you'll see that most "whites" are really subtle pastels. This is because white objects almost always reflect colored light from somewhere, which is why most shadows on snow are blue. They are reflecting the sky. In some cases I painted the snow to represent this phenomenon, in others, I exaggerated the coloration of the plant life in the back ground to create a tension with the colors of the Pronghorn. By doing this the foreground and background compete spatially, which helps with the illusion of depth.
Finally I have a bad habit of making "tonal" paintings, which means being too literal when I try to recreate color. When I try too hard to color match what I see in a photograph, my colors tend to have one "volume." This means that because I have mixed them to the degree that they lack their original intensity, none really sing out. Alternatively, not mixing colors (literally or spatially in terms of mark placement) the painting will be "loud" all over, like music turned up all the way. In light of these twin realizations, I try to incorporate a range of color intensities in my paintings. For example if you look at the back of the Pronghorn you'll see intense red-oranges juxtaposed with larger areas of darker earthy reds. Of course my more vibrant intense marks didn't show up in the photograph, but then I'm not trying to recreate that experience in its totality. This painting preserves something essential about that original scene but also gives you something new and imaginative to consider.
Environmental Justice is a natural extension of social justice insofar as we have to confront the reality that our choices affect an environment we all share. Buckminster Fuller said we are all astronauts aboard “spaceship earth,” and there's no way to take this other than literally. All we need and have and will be able to use for existence is confined to this pale blue dot (to borrow a phrase from Carl Sagan). Earth is no different than the “spaceships” we send out of our atmosphere. We don’t go to space, we’re in space. Resources have to be recycled constantly, they’re finite. Earth systems are superbly suited to this task and our best efforts only approximate this grandeur and efficiency on the tiniest scale.
Because we are connected in the macrosystem that is Earth, all of our actions have moral import on an ecological scale. For example, city planning often affects the disadvantaged and minority classes in disproportionately negative ways. African Americans in cities are often exposed to much higher levels of lead than others and urban areas are often the sites of toxic waste dumps and incinerators. Someone has to answer for these environmental injustices. Often the corporations that perpetuate these crimes against community go unpunished.
The only just use of resource sand interaction with our environment is one that remembers that we are all responsible to each other and in community on a global scale. Environmental justice extends the concept of neighbor to those across and around the globe. In a very real sense, we are all one. The artworks that follow are meant to stimulate reflection on whether you are interacting in just ways with your world and neighbors, human and other.
Our attention is often brought to animals (or other organisms) that are threatened using images of iconic megafauna (big animals). Interestingly, before humans had even established agriculture 12,000 years ago “we” drove nearly half of Earth’s megafauna to extinction. Consider for example the ancient Giant Sloth. We don’t see them around anymore and “natural” environmental changes aren’t to blame. Bighorn sheep aren’t especially threatened but illustrate how one notable and highly visible species can redirect our focus to how our actions as a species can and does disrupt ecosystem balance, often endangering innumerable creatures. These large beasts help us imagine a romanticized nature somehow different and disconnected from our domesticated existence and in so doing appeal to us at a heart level to be concerned for species other than our own.
Colonialism and Imperialism were born in and emanated out of Europe. Europeans envisioned themselves as entitled to hoard and amass wealth, material and otherwise from all over the globe. Technological advances during and after the “age of exploration” allowed Earth’s natural and human resources to be exploited at exponentially increasing rates (even the term “human resource has built into it the notion that humans are mere exploitable economic entities). Thus began an era of mass global injustice, a course that needs correction and redirection. This will require the will of collective humanity if we are to avert global environmental disaster.
Roughly 200 rings (I did my best to count). Hundreds of chances to consider the passage of time and growth of the largest organisms on Earth. Tress stand as “witnesses” to the passage of human action and history. Sadly trees this size are rare because of unsustainable human practices. The are seen as mere material to be exploited and consumed. What if anything, do we owe our plant neighbors? How does their treatment lead to just or unjust future for later generations of all kinds.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.