'Arizona after Don deLillos Underworld Copy
'Arizona'   168x132cms

 

From the 'A m e r i c a s c a p e s ' series and one of strongest paintings of my career.

 

In 1997, I was awarded a Boise Travel Scholarship from the Slade School of Art and made a series of train journeys around the US before painting for two months in a barn in upstate New York (at the home of sculptor Jon Isherwood, a friend and contemporary at Canterbury College of Art). on my travels, I took a detour to the Grand Canyon where I had an incredible, sublime experience: alone, on the edge of a promontory, in a jaw-dropping landscape, buzzards flying overhead, total silence....

As an artist, how do you deal with that grandeur, that overwhelming visual, physical experience? Like the 'City of Glass' series, where I had the problem of painting the scale and familiarity of New York without cliche, I found my way in through a novel, this time Don de Lillo's epic  'Underworld'.

There is a passage where the main character Nick Shay, visits an artist friend of his from New York who is making an artwork at an air base in the Arizona desert. It's not an active base, it's where the US airforce keep their decommissioned B52 bombers, rows upon rows of them, neatly parked. The artist and her team of assistants are systematically stripping the silver paint from the aircraft and then repainting them in wild, vivid colours. Of course, it's a piece that can only be seen from the air, and as a birthday treat Nick and his wife see the artwork from a hot air balloon, a fantastic passage on p:83, where through Nick's eyes you are seeing a painting, that is beyond imagination. 

I was mesmerised by the scale and ambition and beauty of this (fictitious) artwork - in an interview, the artist talks about the desert being the frame - and it resonated with my experience at the Grand Canyon.

 

''This is a landscape painting in which we use the landscape itself. the desert is central to this piece. It's the surround. It's the framing device. It's the four-part horizon.'' 

(Artist Klara Sax, p:70, 'Underworld')

 

In the painting there is so much space and heat, the white, blank canvas of Mexico the hottest part. In the top-right corner is the image of the B52's, and in the spirit of the novel, although ordered in rows, each is different, individualised, 'decommissioned' from their military identity. There are fifty aircraft, one for each state, and if you tilt your head you can see the deliberate visual link to the American flag. Scratched into the paint, is a very subtle train-line, ending at the powerful dot of Flagstaff, where I caught the bus to the canyon....

 

Arizona detail B52s Copy
detail- B52's

 

 

Arizona and D.C. Diamond City Copy
'Arizona' and 'D.C.- Diamond City' in the 'Americascapes' exhibition at the Michael West Gallery