One of the most shocking effects of climate change out west is the explosion of the pine beetle. Without a period of deep freeze across a full month of time, the beetles were not kept in check by the normal cycle of the winter season. So they spread like wildfire and killed huge swaths of lodgepole pines. Whole mountain ranges became cloaked in the rust colored dead forest. Because of the dry climate, this led to mega-wildfires. Where fire is essential to the cycle of the forests in the west, these super fires wrought nothing but destruction. The lumber is still good, but the market became quickly saturated, so landowners had a hard time finding ways to clear their dead woods and still make ends meet from the clearing. The Lazy Shamrock Ranch has a tree farm in the higher elevations of the ranch. The trees were infected and ultimately logged out to make toilet paper. We enjoyed several bonfires of slash over the years it took to clear the wood. By the time they had cleared the breadth of their tree farm, young trees started growing. It ends up that beetles target trees that are tired. Development disrupts the natural cycle of fire, so we end up with aged forests. When the young trees are growing, even in an outbreak of pine beetle, they produce enough sap that the beetle cannot burrow under the bark, so they thrive. I made these four oil paintings on canvas as intimate portraits of infected trees. I was heartbroken to see such dramatic shifts in the landscape, but I also realize we are experiencing great changes in our time.
en plein air
My father spent over 50 years working at the Lazy Shamrock Ranch. Ultimately he became known as the master irrigator throughout the ranching community of the Blue River Valley. We would join him in the spring time when the snow melt run-off was at its highest, so that he could direct the water, spreading it across the meadows to give the grass a good soaking before the summer dryness would set in. In good years, a monsoon season would water the fields later in the season, so this gave a good start to the grass being able to thrive and feed the cattle. It was here that I had the space to work with a shotgun and create textural foundations to my paintings. This series was created in my favorite aspen groves. These areas were magic for me when I was growing up and to this day, when I think of my absolute favorite places, it is the aspen grove which brings me most peace. The shimmering light filtered through quaking leaves, the soft and smooth white bark, the familial nature of the groves and the wildflowers that abound all come together to make an ideal landscape. I would spend days lost in my imagination while wandering with the fairies and sprites who inhabit these groves. By this time in my life, I camped out alone to have the solitude to create these paintings of my most favorite place on earth.
Ta Prohm temple
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII stands supported by tree roots that have cascaded down the stone structures and embedded themselves so intricately with the temple, it would prove very difficult to remove them without destroying the ancient buildings. In a beautiful marriage of nature and architecture, the forms were born of many years of the temple sitting forgotten in the tropical forest. Throughout the complex, buildings are adorned with extensive friezes of the battle between the Khmer & Cham centuries ago. In more recent history, it was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge until they were ousted by the Vietnamese after the American War there. Evidence of bullet holes are pockmarks scattered across the surfaces as residual marks from this tumultuous era. This series was painted from photographs I took there in 1999. At that time, I was exploring the long term impacts of the American presence through the region. My father was a captain in Intelligence during the American war in Vietnam. His task was to interpret aerial photographs to decide where to drop bombs. He spent time in Cambodia during the first stirrings of genocide that flourished after the Americans left the region. The series of landscapes are infused with a red haze that fills the atmosphere, painted in this way to reflect this recent history, while the trees and architecture persist silently into another new age. The grounds-dwellers around the temples of Angkor Wat are without limbs more often than not as the community continues to be confronted by extensive UXO and slowly come to points of healing. The paintings of shrines found throughout the stone halls are a testament to the continued use of the temples as sacred spaces.