Categories
Mobilities Rocky Mountain West Slow Food

REAP

The Environmental Unsustainability of the American Food Machine

Oil refinery in Commerce City, painting by Lee Lee
Oil refinery in Commerce City, Colorado | oil on canvas

What does it look like to have a tree scream out in desperation? This body of work is driven by concerns about our nourishment, as well as a fear for the resulting degradation of the environment.

Oil makes up the foundation of the American food machine. Our reliance on fossil fuels in food production is immense. Not only are they used extensively in farming and transportation, they are also the catalyst which fixes ammonium nitrate to make chemical fertilizers. Dominating this installation are paintings depicting an oil refinery in the rain. The size emphasizes our reliance on oil, while the execution questions the effects of fossil fuels on the cleanliness of our natural resources through paint stains dripping into the water.

Oil painting of midwestern crop circles by Lee LEe
Crop Circles | oil on canvas

Flying above Midwestern plains, the crop circles and grids of industrial farms are an imposition on ancient grasslands. The only remaining natural elements are the occasional rivers whose fingers branch up into the geometric landscape. The Crop series consists of dormant fields under a light dusting of snow to reflect how our process of conventional farming is leaching nutrients from the earth while filling our waterways with poisons, which will ultimately cause infertility in our land. Pairing the Crop landscapes with interiors of an abandoned Intercontinental Ballistic Missile silo illustrates a direct link between our systematic food production and war. After WWII, the US Agriculture department encouraged farmers to spread ammonium nitrate, leftover from bomb construction, onto their fields as fertilizer. Today we are deeply entrenched in a war in an attempt to feed our oil habit, which in turn sustains the industrial food machine. It is disturbing that our “nourishment” is born out of war and continues to manifest such destruction to this day.

Abandoned slaughterhouse, watercolor painting by Lee Lee
Abandoned slaughterhouse | watercolor, pencil & tar on shotgunned paper collage

Continuing down the path of food production, a series of watercolors manifests the haunted spaces of an abandoned slaughterhouse. The energy it takes to raise meat takes up the bulk of grain that we produce. In his book, Anger, Thich Nhat Hanh describes how traces of energy are absorbed through consumption. For example, if an animal leads a miserable life, then we absorb that misery when we take their meat into our bodies. This series is complimented by a set of roadkill drawings which serve as a poignant reflection of our attitude towards animal life; these wild animals lay as part of our refuse, disregarded as we speed along the highways of our own lives.

'bleeding' aspen photograph by Lee Lee
Unaltered photograph
‘bleeding’ Aspen
Lazy Shamrock Ranch, Colorado

Both nitrate and carbon emissions from America’s conventional food machine make a huge contribution to climate change. One of the most visually striking symptoms is emerging as a new virus found in aspen trees. The red gashes in the thin skin-like bark of the trees appear as flesh wounds. More than a literal illustration of a shifting environment, the corporeal appearance of the trees make a connection to our own bodies. As our health is intricately connected to the health of the environment, the violence conveyed through the process of using a shotgun in this series reflects the violence we are wreaking on ourselves.

Pinting of a Titan missile silo by Lee Lee
Titan Missile Silo Eastern Colorado Acryllic on Canvas

The built structures portrayed here are in various states of decay; a return to nature. This represents the beginning of a shift in attitude of many Americans who are concerned about the adverse effects of the way we produce and consume food. Despite the prevailing theme of environmental demise in this body of work, we can hardly destroy the environment. Ultimately the world will survive; the question is whether or not humans will be around to enjoy it. The survival of humanity will be determined by the attitudes and approaches we take towards interacting with the environment now.

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
Rocky Mountain West

brand

Cattle branding - pencil drawing by Lee Lee
Preparing the tag | pencil on cardstock | 4.25″ x 5.25″
Cattle branding - pencil drawing by Lee Lee
Nostril pinch | pencil on cardstock | 4.25″ x 5.25″
In the collection of the McFaddin Ranch, Texas
Cattle branding - pencil drawing by Lee Lee
Roped | pencil on cardstock | 4.25″ x 5.25″
In the collection of the McFaddin Ranch, Texas
Cattle branding - pencil drawing by Lee Lee
Taggin’ | pencil on cardstock | 4.25″ x 5.25″
Cattle branding - pencil drawing by Lee Lee
Dogged | pencil on cardstock | 4.25″ x 5.25″
In the collection of the McFaddin Ranch, Texas
Cattle branding - pencil drawing by Lee Lee
Castration | pencil on cardstock | 4.25″ x 5.25″
In the collection of the McFaddin Ranch, Texas
Categories
Rocky Mountain West

Shadow Creek

Lee Lee landscape painting of Shadow Creek Ranch, Colorado

en plein air

After irrigating on the Lazy Shamrock Ranch for over 50 years, my father was asked to restore an old network of ditches that had fallen into dis-use at the neighboring Shadow Creek Ranch. Because the Flanigans were keeping some of their cattle there, they urged my dad to take the offer as they knew that he would grow more ‘groceries’ on which to sustain the large herd. Shadow Creek was taking a unique approach to ranching. They had subdivided a portion of the ranch to build luxury homes then hired ranch hands to run the operation. Part of the package was the use of little hunting cabins perched high above the ranches. Instead of commuting back and forth, we stayed together in one of these little cabins for a while during his time working there. Cooking over a campfire, sleeping out under the stars, waking up to spectacular views of the Gore range and exploring the immediate woodlands were sheer delight. I created a series of plein-air paintings of a nearby forest hollow that was filled with fallen trees. The tangle of massive trunks was visually appealing. The cool shadows of the forest in this area offered a respite from the glaring early summer sun. I felt dwarfed by the size of the piled up wood and it brought me back to my childhood and the awe that I felt by these landscapes. These works are small scale oil on card.

Shadow Creek Ranch landscape painting by Lee Lee
Shadow Creek Ranch landscape painting by Lee Lee
Shadow Creek Ranch landscape painting by Lee Lee
Shadow Creek Ranch landscape painting by Lee Lee
Shadow Creek Ranch landscape painting by Lee Lee
Lee Lee landscape painting of Shadow Creek Ranch, Colorado
Shadow Creek Ranch landscape painting by Lee Lee
Categories
Rocky Mountain West

Lazy Shamrock Ranch

Bulldoggin', oil painting by Lee Lee
Bulldoggin’ | oil on canvas | 54″ x 64″
On view at The Distillery, Taos
Bulldoggin' detail by Lee Lee
detail of Bulldoggin’
Branding & doctoring | oil on canvas | 22″ x 32″
In the collection of Kelly Snider
Oil painting of cowboys be Lee Lee
Brand | oil on canvas | 32″ x 44″
In the Townsend collection, Denver
Corral | oil on canvas | 22″x32″
In the collection of Gyda & Sean Flanigan
Sean with the iron | oil on canvas | 54″ x 64″
On view at the SEED Barn, Blue Hill
detail of Sean with the Iron
Categories
Rocky Mountain West

tack shed

These still life paintings were created while tucked into the tack shed during the winter cold in January, 2005. The snow covered landscape is visible through the window. Saddles, bridles and gear infused with the warm smell of horses lay in rest through the winter season.

tack shed oil painting by Lee Lee
Tack | oil on canvas | 16″ x 16″
tack shed oil painting by Lee Lee
Tack | oil on canvas | 16″ x 16″
tack shed oil painting by Lee Lee
Tack workbench | oil on canvas | 16″ x 16″
tack shed oil painting by Lee Lee
Tack | oil on canvas | 16″ x 16″