Most major natural spaces, where one can really experience raw nature, are through State and National Parks; many of which were initially protected due to their proximity to sites which contained historical significance. For my artistic practice, I make paintings and drawings in these spaces, both from life and from sketches and photographs that I take. In exploring this land, I am always struck by the contradiction of these utterly incredible, beautiful, awe-inspiring spaces adjoining historical sites where extremely violent events and massive crimes of injustice often took place. This dichotomy of how we preserve history containing some of the worst aspects of our past as a country, along with preserving our spaces of natural splendor fascinates me. I strive to explore this duality in my work by choosing these sites, to see if it is possible to show this tension through a traditional landscape approach. Through this process I’m left with questions as to whether history can leave a trace on the land, if it mars it in some way, if the spirits of those lost can be felt and experienced in the light that filters through the trees and in the stillness of the unmoving air.
My recent work has been focusing on these such sites just outside my current city of Jacksonville, FL; primarily Kingsley Plantation, Fort Caroline National Monument and the Talbot Islands State Parks. The heat of Florida, the swamps, the humidity and the bugs only add to the sense of foreboding as I try to imagine what the stolen and displaced people who built these sites felt, as they found themselves in this poisoned Garden of Eden. The density of these forests, with the ominous rustle of creatures moving close next to you, but which you can't see, create a miasma of nightmare. Yet, in the light, the greenery, and the scrub, there is a rich beauty, as if steeped in a world where time stands still, where one can still momentarily get lost in the romanticism of the natural landscape.
As I explore the essence of this land through my painting, I am constantly reminded of the impermanence of it, located on the edges of a rising sea. A rising caused by climate change, another testament to the ravages of capitalism and colonialism. This location witnessed many horrors, and so I have begun to think of the trees as sentinels, or those who have been, and still are, keeping watch. I have taken this concept into my most recent paintings, where I paint the trees and shrubs as types of portraits, often echoing the centrality in light and placement, of a Christ figure in a crucifixion painting. This connection to Christianity, key in its relationship to colonialism, feels appropriate to make when working from this land.