Dead Zones


It’s this crazy weather we’ve been having:

Falling forward one minute, lying down the next

Among the loose grasses and soft, white, nameless flowers.

People have been making a garment out of it,

Stitching the white of lilacs together with lightning

At some anonymous crossroads. The sky calls

To the deaf earth. The proverbial disarray

Of morning corrects itself as you stand up.

You are wearing a text. The lines

Droop to your shoelaces and I shall never want or need

Any other literature than this poetry of mud

And ambitious reminiscences of times when it came easily

Through the then woods and ploughed fields and had

A simple unconscious dignity we can never hope to

Approximate now except in narrow ravines nobody

Will inspect where some late sample of the rare,

Uninteresting specimen might still be putting out shoots,

for all we know.                               -John Ashbery


The paintings in this exhibition (Crazy Weather, Moody Gallery, 2008), titled for John Ashbery’s poem above, can be understood as poetic visual responses to the crazy weather – and other ill effects – that now afflict the earth.

Dead zones are large areas in bodies of water such as the Gulf of Mexico that are unable to support marine life due to depleted oxygen levels. Fueled by nitrogen runoff from the Mid-Western farm states into the Mississippi River, the boom in ethanol has caused the Gulf dead zone to swell to enormous proportions. I use a color-driven narrative and the fluid qualities of watercolor to describe the abrupt change in water quality occurring in such zones. The morbid title of this series is underscored by the shroud like shapes of the images, which are based on actual maps of dead zones.

Several works allude obliquely to the Pacific Gyre, an immense vortex of ocean currents, which is the ultimate repository of the world’s plastic refuse. The lithograph entitled Ice Core refers to core samples of accumulations of snow and ice that record climate conditions over thousands of years. The flower forms in many of the images are actually shapes created by a Hele-Shaw Cell, a scientific apparatus used to study branching patterns in fluids. Stones collected on the shores of Lake Superior leave their imprints in colored washes.

Crazy color and hopeful swirls belie the sad content embodied in these paintings. For all we know “the rare, uninteresting specimen might still be putting out shoots.”

Liz Ward
October, 2008


  • Dead Zone (Gulf of Mexico), 2008 Watercolor

    Dead Zone (Gulf of Mexico), 2008 Watercolor on paper 25 1/4 x 76 ½””

  • Dead Zone (Lake Erie), watercolor

    Dead Zone (Lake Erie), 2008 Watercolor on paper 25 ½ x 76”

  • Dead Zone (Chesapeake), 2008 Watercolor

    Dead Zone (Chesapeake), 2008 Watercolor on paper, 25 1/4 x 76 ½””

  • Dead Zone (Oregon Coast), Watercolor on paper

    Dead Zone (Oregon Coast), 2008, Watercolor on paper, 26 ½ x 77”