Categories
.debris. Africa Americas Maine Migrations Mobilities Rocky Mountain West

Neo Rio 2020: HOME

The way the box arrived to us here in Maine was circuitous. It was made in Maine, shipped west, then shipped back to Maine in a mobilities intense transaction. It is made primarily of pine, whose cone is the state flower of Maine. We are living in Mulatamicuwon or ‘the place where water flows and sticks to the sand’ now known as Blue Hill Falls. We have only been here for a few years, so have not grown deep enough roots to consider it ‘home’, but it is certainly a lovely place to be during a pandemic. Our current residence is in the homeland of the Penobscot, who spent summers on the peninsula. Part of the Wabanaki family of tribes in what is known as Dawnland, Penobscot were the most decimated communities of the area as European settlers reaped the rich resources of this land. Our house is located in close proximity to the first settler landing spot here in Blue Hill, constructed by a ship builder in 1835. We frequently think of the settler relationships with Penobscot. European colonists ended up severing Maine’s landscape of the great White Pine. They used the straight but flexible trunks for ship masts. The lumber first built the ships then was carried off to build plantations through the Caribbean, laying in place colonial structures of systemized racism that persist today. Africans were severed from their homes to serve in Caribbean plantations constructed from material that was severed from the landscape in Maine. Penobscot people, so closely interwoven with the land, suffered tremendous loss due to the severance physically from the landscape as the landscape was stripped of its’ forests.

We burned the box, then placed a nest inside. While the bird was resourceful with the available materials, it made us sad to think of the synthetic plastic that was woven into this home for birds and reminds us that modern human construction of homes often consists of chemically laden, synthetic material. Within the nest are a pair of pine eggs, painted by Thatcher Gray, along with a marble egg. It reminded us of brood parasites; birds who lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, then fly away so that their young sap the resources from the unwillingly adopted parents. We photographed it in a Hawthorn tree, which was the other species decimated from this landscape. The trees were harvested for their long thorns, which were used as nails in ship construction. These ‘nails’ grew on trees resistant to rot, and would hold up in the salt heavy air better than the iron nails which would succumb to rust. While we were burning the box, Carol Dana, who was visiting from Indian Island, made the comment that the burning reminded her of the mega-fires out west. The fires that sent out a smoky haze that we could see even here in Maine. Her comment tossed me back to the west, the area I do consider HOME.

Neo Rio is hosted by LEAP
Land, Experience & Art of Place
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Lee Lee & Thatcher Gray - NeoRio 2020 HOME box
Categories
Americas Rocky Mountain West

pine

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.

Lee Lee oil painting of beetle kill in Colorado
Lee Lee oil painting of beetle kill in Colorado
Lee Lee oil painting of beetle kill in Colorado
private collection
Lee Lee oil painting of beetle kill in Colorado
Categories
Americas Rocky Mountain West

aspen

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.

Spring aspen painting by Lee Lee
Spring aspen painting by Lee Lee
Spring aspen painting by Lee Lee
Spring aspen painting by Lee Lee
Spring aspen painting by Lee Lee
Spring aspen painting by Lee Lee
Categories
Asia

Rajavihara

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.

Painting of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Lee Lee
Painting of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Lee Lee
Painting of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Lee Lee
Painting of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Lee Lee
In the collection of Tracy Weil, Denver
Painting of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Lee Lee
Painting of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Lee Lee
Painting of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Lee Lee
Painting of Ta Prohm temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia by Lee Lee
Lee Lee | Ta Prohm series from Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Oil on canvas | 2005