We live in what scientists now call the Anthropocene, the geological era dominated by humans, otherwise called the Sixth Extinction. The geological record is known and named by the great extinction events that overturn the entire biosphere, that drastically alter earth's entire suite of living creatures and plants. We humans are now causing earth's sixth great species extinction. The last event, the Fifth Extinction, was 65 million years ago; it was the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, likely due to a massive meteorite strike.
Having become a tremendously powerful force of nature, we are top predators running amok, having by our clever brains largely escaped the natural controls that rein in other predators. We are hunters of animals, hunger and disease. Our tender underbelly is our profound ignorance of the fragile webs of life and chemistry that support our very existence, that secretly control all conditions of life on earth. Clever and manipulative though we be, we are strangely vulnerable to superstition, misconception, and irrationality, as well as handicapped by our intense preoccupation with the immediate present. Though the past would speak to us, we don't hear its lessons.
At this crossroad of history, it is evolution and natural history that interest me as I seek information and a fresh perspective on the human animal vis a vis nature. As a diehard painter, this scientific information somehow transforms into imagery-- into weird, even darkly humorous, cinematic scenarios. Ravaged forests, the seabed of the Alexandrian harbor, a post-industrial Egyptian garbage heap, natural history museums in dream time ---they all serve as settings. Humans are cast as transients traveling through the landscape. Fossils and skeletons are earth's recorder, earth's evidence of past life. Skeletons therefore recur as symbol of our ties to all creatures, living and extinct, and as symbol of our vulnerability to the same forces of nature that rule all creatures. (revised June 2012)
Culture as related to art is most often linked to ethnicity, but the world of science is as foreign, as powerfully different, and as richly rewarding as any living culture alien to the majority of Americans. I have embraced the scientific world view by training and by inclination; I once supported my art by working part-time as a physician, in diagnostic radiology, where I daily imaged and analyzed the human body in every conceivable manner that human ingenuity can devise to probe its function and structure. The surface anatomy one would recognize as friend or family becomes largely irrelevant. We radiologists contemplate strange radioactive images of hearts, of bones; we dissect humans by computer, cutting them into millimeter slices and then putting them back together like Humpty Dumpty. To do this kind of thing changes ones way of thinking about the world. I devour science books, mostly about evolution and ecology.
The historical sciences like paleontology or evolutionary biology shatter normal quotidian time lines by delving into deep time, into the almost unimaginable past. A landscape ecologist for instance looks at Manhattan and sees not its current urban architecture, but the network of former streams, hills, trees, and animals that existed 600 years ago. A geologist sees the glacier that once covered half of Brooklyn with a thick layer of ice. A paleontologist looks at a fossil fish and sees the first rudimentary bones that became our forearms,wrists, and fingers. These scenarios, based on rational conjecture and reproducible knowledge, add a great fluidity and richness to ones perception of life in the present. Ordinary scenes echo with intimations of the past and of unseen inter-connections and functions. This then is the rich culture that informs my imagination, that is the source of my work's imagery. The imagination made fluid by science can tap deep wells of unexpected poetry. If one is used to thinking in time lapse mental movies, walls do dissolve into clouds, fish morph into humans, and alas!, humans become the biological equivalent of the massive volcanism that likely caused the Permian Extinction, the Great Dying that nearly wiped out life on earth millions of years ago. And also, joyfully, the sheer resilience and wonder of life is revealed as well. (revised June 2012)