In my recent work, I appropriate stills primarily from the Western film genre. References to the films serve as departure points into more abstract visual fields and meditations on the spiritual condition of the “colonist,” an archetype within my evolving mythology of “The Religion.”
Two concepts are key in the work: the Frontier and the Wilderness. The Frontier evaporates with the compression of time and space at the advent of the railroad, effectively destroying the Native American way of life under the ideological banner of “progress” and religious decree to “civilize.” The Wilderness in various religious traditions is a kind of primordial darkness from which creation is possible. The work implicitly asks the question, how does the colonist lose what Aldous Huxley calls the “Old World” self, or what Julia Kristeva calls “Oceanic Feeling” and what does he find in its absence?
The Western, for me, offers itself as a kind of operating table in which the constraint of both convention and setting form a rhythm parallel with that of painting, an oscillation between violence and reflection. War, in both the western genre and in painting, is the forcing unity of existence for each. Even the set design within the Western exists to enliven its choreography and to drive the action toward greater intoxication and climax.
The use of Western genre imagery is a strategic choice. Inheriting a legacy of colonization well documented by European painters of the 18th and 19th centuries, I take on a posture of guilt, and declare, “I am whatever you say I am,” which, in turn, gives rise to redemptive yearning. The cowboy, in modern society, is the most readily available and often unflattering cliché to represent the white American male, which is what called me to the Western. The Western exists at a time and place in which the hegemony of Manifest Destiny is complete, and the West has been “civilized.” From the dust, emerges an antiheroic cowboy figure who lacks a clear identity of his own. The Nobody seems to come from nowhere and has nowhere to go. Nobody is obsolete. In this way, he is what many would like to say about painting, and I appropriate him self-reflexively. Because a sense of redemption is the primary hope for the subjects of the paintings, the work becomes relevant to those for whom the need for redemption is acknowledged in a modern environment where flippant nihilism seems to be an easier alternative.
I want the paintings to have the feeling of vague recollection, a memory that starts to form but disappears. Something scintillant. Something that for a moment might be capable of divorcing the modern human from the profane or simulated environment while suggesting a feeling of the sacred or profoundly real. Because reconnection with past ways of life is impossible, the desire to do so is misdirected. But this misdirection often arrises from the redemptive yearning itself, and the inability to transcend material subjugation sparks an inner confusion. The inner confusion of the colonist who is barely or not-at-all conscious of his identity as such, is at the heart of what the work is about.