–Montana Firescapes

Growing up, I had a near-romantic involvement with the landscape. When I was outdoors, I was always primed for the revelations that illuminated life and death, balance, time, beauty—an angle of light, a shift in the clouds, a carcass or a downed tree. As a girl, I believed that this was what true love felt like because it was so visceral, so absolute, so filled with understanding. Those breathtaking moments came to serve as a kind of standard for true things in my life–including art–though I’ve come to understand that not much reaches that pure, powerful simplicity.

In the urban life I live now, subtle conceits about nature prevail: that randomness ought to be under human control, that what is not of the city is unsophisticated, that nature is relevant to modern life mostly as a resource or as therapy. When, shortly after I started painting, forest fires began to rage in Montana, I felt an urgent pull to go observe the powerful reordering of nature that, to me, speaks so profoundly to the workings of life. In the Montana Firescapes I attempted to create portraits of nature’s inversions, of elements and natural relationships reconstructed and re-envisioned by fire.

In a newly ravaged forest, where nothing but the trunks of towering trees are left standing, light is admitted in a startling way, the sky now visible all the way down to the ground. Though your feet are on soil and the sky is untouchable, sky nevertheless becomes the more immediate and sustaining element. Where sunlight would normally be blocked by high branches and dense foliage, after a fire it intrudes where it could never reach before, compelling green growth from a scorched earth a mere day after the conflagration has passed. Ash is a potent fertilizer; and morning dew arrives every morning, even after a fire.

On smoke-shrouded days, time is unknowable. From sunrise to sunset, the world is one endless twilight, the sun a doppelganger for the cloud-covered moon. On nights when fire blazes behind the mountains, midnight is brighter than noon. Smoke, normally a gentle perturbation of the air sent up from friendly fireplaces and campfires, takes on the mass of an obliterating hand, smothering land and sky as far as the eye can see.

Yet these inversions are acts of nature, natural in their unnaturalness. They are as beautiful as they are frightening and disorienting. I created the Montana Firescapes to consider the new life and visions of order that emerge from natural destruction.–from 2003 artistic statement

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