Proscenium Roadscapes
Series in Oil Paint. 2009 
Spring 2009
Proscenium" is a term from the theater that describes the "fourth wall" ie the invisible barrier that separates the play/actors from the audience. Inherent in this separation is also the audience's "suspension of disbelief"- or allowing that the play has a certain reality that is self-contained. The ability to transport the viewer, through the complex synergy of adjusting the context of the viewer, is also part of the "Proscenium" concept- the magic 4th wall resonates on both sides of the stage.
The Proscenium paintings contain many "fourth wall" separations. Such separations include: the ideal Western landscape and the real Western landscape; the visually accessible vs the physically inaccessible; the passage of time moving the audience through a narrative/landscape; the outer world v the inner space of the car; the separation from the active forces of the world by the windshield's invisible barrier; the illusion of safety and the nearness of death.
The original photograph itself is another removal/abstraction wherein the camera acts as an autonomic eye capturing vast quantities of imagery with an incredibly limited ability for the photographer (who is an appendage of the process) to adjust the image for composition, theme, time of day- a true snapshot aesthetic. This process neutralized the photograph, allowing another layer of removal- which forces all choice and meaning to the painting.
Theater occurs in painting from the photographic image. Estrangement from the landscape is an essential aspect of the Proscenium series. A first motivation is also recognizing the demarcations of the heavily industrialized world that slip into every view, and not allowing the "suspension of disbelief" that removes these important signifiers in favor of a romanticized story of the West. The method for gathering the images follow certain parameters. The first is that I do not take the pictures- I drive the car at a steady 75+mph and Elizabeth shoots. My only direction to her is to shoot for landscape, and allow for everything that constitutes the landscape. This removal of myself from creating the primary images mirrors the separation of automobile travel and the travelers' essential estrangement from the surrounding landscape. It also illustrates the disconnected abstraction of existence for the industrialized person, which in the Western First-World is everyone.
There is an implied complicit assent of burning the world down through existing as an American- the images are taken from within a third-hand convertible Mustang ( a nod backwards to the iconic Pony-Car gathering dust in my father's shed), on an interstate highway system that reaches to every corner of the nation and is surrounded and inundated with petroleum and travel-based industries, the paintings are made in a Hospice facility at a comfortable 70 degrees while the outside temperature is -34. That 104 degree difference is the fever-dream that shimmers in the mind: the real Proscenium that confuses the play of destructive progress with the industrial living death that is the common life of the Western World.
These Proscenium images are certainly Vanitas images in the painting tradition of the Memento Mori.
My own narrative of personal wilderness immersions v industrially hovering near the landscape in car travel offers an underlying narrative to the reason for all the miles travelled in the past year. The motivation of travel reaches toward the loss of a way of life and the loss of a way of being that is irreversible. This is the loss of the traditional American farm/ranch, which has been in my family on my father's side for more than 100 years. In his lifetime the horse has been replaced by machinery, the self-sustaining ranch of dairy cows, chickens, and a vegetable garden being a part of the household has disappeared, and the lost personal relationship with nature as a living primacy in day-to-day life. The travel is due to the spread of cancer through my father, as certain and finite as the unseen forces that demand the existence of the ribbon of interstate and all that border it.
The unchecked exponential growth of the human race tears down the world, and as natural resources are overwhelmed and collapse the terminal rate of malignant human impact on the world (i.e. the symptomatic issues of massive oceanic die-offs and dead zones and floating continents of plastic, melting polar caps, and the exploding extinction rate of every terrestrial life form- insects, animals, birds, plants), well, it is all too simple to compare humanity to cancer. A cancer that is entering a final stage, that will effectively kill the biosphere.
The Proscenium is the theater of the mind, the abstraction of soft thoughts to distract from the Real, encouraging the rapid dispersal and expansion of the all-pervasive cancer. In our long lived national fantasy of the untrammeled American West, this Narrative fantasy contains the sub-narrative of the Real. One has simply to undo the magical edit of the mind and consider not only what is in the narrative of the painting, but the narrative of car, travel, road, infrastructure, and beyond these symptoms to the massive scale of destruction that allows any of it. In this way the intent of the painting can emerge.
The tipping point is long past, and humanity, like cancer, is incapable of halting themselves from destroying their host. Not a new truth, but an essential sub-narrative of the paintings that helps illuminate the direction they lead.

from 12/17/08:
In the span of June-Nov I found myself driving from KS to MT, MT to UT, UT to KS, KS to UT, UT to MT, MT to UT, UT to MT, and MT to UT. This time behind the wheel moving across the amazing Western landscape juxtaposed itself with prior summers of mine as a mountaineer in Colorado, as well as the time spent in the saddle and walking the expansive MT ranch. This past summer/fall road travel became my time in the landscape- in the summer with the convertible top down, in winter with the wind roaring through the holes in the old top with the sound of a waterfall- just enough to blur music to a background curiosity.
There is an illusion that one is not really in the landscape, that the windshield is somehow similar to a TV screen or a theater stage; on these roads I have suddenly come awake and squeezed out a breathless stop while deer scramble and fall and leap from the road, or skate a patch of ice hidden in a tight canyon curve, or a tire suddenly blowing out with the vehicle under load with two speeding semis on my tail, or a truck drifting into my lane from the inside corner pushing me off the blacktop and riding the edge of flipping into a rolling crash  - all coalescing out of the odd spacial warp of time/distance, emerging suddenly from the false security of the illusory proscenium.
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