Landscape Empathy: From the Inside Out
“I am interested in what connects to what. I am interested in what man has done to the landscape so I am not very interested in painting the sky. So I never paint a high sky. I seldom paint a high sky.”—Rackstraw Downes, Bomb Interview 2002
Sensitivity is a Southern response to the region’s history and landscape. To me, empathy comes from an emotive place. Deep within the Southern landscape, emotional energy takes the form of sweltering heat and violent storms, as well as a romantic tenderness familiar to sugar cane’s sweetness and the softness within the cotton plant’s seedpod. Forged in my memory are Tornado Alley’s pelting hail, wind and rain, amidst storm sirens, funnel clouds—a recent 100-year flood followed by drought. I empathize because I have witnessed nature’s cruelty toward the rural-agrarian American South. Weather’s fury demands respect for the land and for what climate change can do.
Over millions of years, the cycle of life and death occur while time allows organic matter and energy to accumulate. My drawings and paintings are my interpretations of a specific landscape, its crops and the weather. Out of empathy and within a fragment of time, my mental residue remains in the marks and the traces of a human ‘being’. Through carbon weaving, I recall domestic, aboriginal crafts and early American quilt construction made by those who weathered storms and planted seeds before me.
I consider humans as unique fibers. Each life and death converts into carbon electrons, protons, and neutrons, forming an atomic nucleus. Chemically and hormonally, my body cycles through the process interdependently. How are social and environmental empathy connected? In an attempt to understand tensions between aesthetics and synthetics, boundaries between the natural and unnatural merge. Adaptability and renew-ability become the alternative—an empathetic sublime.
Muted, painted layers become the landscape. Within this ground, I make marks that chronicle human vulnerability. Through the process, I map emotive and physical intellect within hybridized physiological and ecological subspaces. Congruent with quantum physics—continuous energy, particles and movement—become relative to how the mind and body are subject to composition and decomposition. Looking beyond the horizon, I ponder unity, compassion and responsiveness toward the other and the land. I imagine a place where empathy flourishes.