In September of 2019 I was an artist-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. The Park is a remote archipelago surrounded by deep, fresh water and covered by boreal forests, marshes, and bogs. At that far northern latitude, the light has an almost palpable quality. It reminded me of the 19th-century Luminist landscape paintings I have always loved. Indeed, I felt myself to be “in” such a painting. Most of the works in this exhibition, many of them titled with place names from Isle Royale, resulted from that residency experience. They are also informed by my study of classical Chinese landscape painting and Tantric art.
The Daily Labors gravestone rubbings and Silver River come from my many summers in the Keweenaw in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Keweenaw, also known as the Copper Country, is formed from the same ancient geology as Isle Royale. In the 19th-century, it was the nation’s leading producer of copper. The historic gravestones in our local Pine Grove Cemetery, where I made the rubbings, record the danger and the human toll of the early mining days. Both the Keweenaw and Isle Royale are former tribal lands of the Ojibwe people.
The outlier Strangler Fig drawing was inspired by a five-week research trip to Costa Rica in summer 2021 with Trinity University. This species (Ficus costaricana) is a parasitic tree, which relies for its propagation on birds dropping its seeds into the canopy of the tropical forest. The seed grows from the top down and then up again, using the host tree as a support, and eventually strangling it. Apart from the strange beauty of these plants, one can imagine them as metaphors for the legacy of colonialism and unbridled resource extraction in all latitudes of the Americas.