Intersections of the familiar, unknown, native, and urban; featuring Garrett Middaugh, Julie Davis, Nicholas Baxter, Jason Webb, David Leonard
Written by Emily Brandon
Our lives are fleeting, but our mark upon the earth is eternal. What has our presence given to—or taken from—the world around us? Earth, Land, Property suggests both enlightening and devastating interpretations of our human impact. These images halt us, imploring a rare and precious moment of consideration about our actions and interactions with our planet. Day to day, humans move past the juxtaposition of nature and industry without much thought. Earth, Land, Property seeks to pause the movement, to end our desensitization, with the intention of looking more closely at this relationship we often take for granted. Land usage may be an intentional process, but we routinely neglect to consider unintentional impacts in tandem.
Earth, Land, Property suggests both enlightening and devastating interpretations of our human impact.
Only three percent of our nation is considered developed land, yet is home to seventy-five percent of the population. Urbanized lands do not revert to previous states—concrete and steel are hard to erase. As time passes, infrastructure crumbles, roads deteriorate, and humans turn a blind eye to the decay of formerly useful buildings. But then again—does it have to be so bleak? For, is nature not hearty and willful? Decayed buildings are often overpowered with green vines and freshly grown grasses, adorned with weeds and the promise of wildlife’s redemption. Humans and nature are inextricably intertwined. A cyclical tug-of-war that will not cease until humans disappear.
A showcase of five unique artists, Earth, Land, Property explores these ideas and inspires us to start a conversation about how we treat our precious planet. The exhibit exists as a spectrum, where each artist conveys a message of our land quite differently from the next. The pieces are often ambiguous: many messages, numerous ways to consider and learn.
Garrett Middaugh’s oil paintings of expansive vistas and intimate portrait-like studies of trees represent the beginning of this journey: land undisturbed by human development. His paintings observe land that feels reserved only for the most basic elements of nature. Garrett Middaugh’s commitment to hypnotic visual images evokes a deep appreciation for nature that is relatively untouched. A return to what was lost by urbanization. For the most part, Garrett Middaugh is a landscape painter, working with oils and pastels. His work largely focuses on Texas spaces, from mountains to rolling hills and deserts. Middaugh paints from photographs taken at national and state parks, with the intention to highlight humans’ earnest efforts at land conservation. His realist style and use of muted, natural colors represents his commitment to honoring the natural wonders of our landscape.
The exhibit exists as a spectrum, where each artist conveys a message of our land quite differently from the next. The pieces are often ambiguous: many messages, numerous ways to consider and learn.
The grip of the human hand strengthens as Julie Davis explores the space just outside of our town centers. Her plein air paintings imply a delicate harmony between man and nature. In some of her work, fields are plowed, or simple homes are seen in the distance. In other paintings, Davis illustrates nature steadily reclaiming old shuttered shacks. Her words spark powerful imagery as she explains, “A crumbling stucco shed in knee-deep grass that once housed a family, an old barn with lifetimes of wear, an individual tree flourishing at the corner of an old store—each is worthy of, but unaccustomed to, our sustained attention. These are the forms and figures I celebrate in my work.”
Among rubbish and decay, there is potential to stumble upon hope.
Closer to our cities, Nicholas Baxter depicts forgotten structures that seem to exist in a time after humans. His plein air paintings of bridges, concrete river channels, and old storefronts emphasize our fleeting impact on earth. Baxter also delights in the inclusion of trompe d’oeil effects in his paintings which reinforce feelings of wear and distress. As Nicholas Baxter describes, “These overlooked and abandoned places, seemingly frozen in time, serve not only as reminders of the past, but as windows to a post-apocalyptic future, as ecosystems once proscribed by industry reassert their natural urge to grow and thrive amidst the wreckage of civilization.” Nicholas Baxter is also a prolific tattoo artist, specializing in color surrealism, biomech, and bio-organic styles.
Similarly, Jason Webb’s “discard pile” paintings directly isolate the mark humanity can make. Mounds of rubbish found around Austin on bulk collection days examine our excess, just before it is hauled to a place out of our sight. Jason Webb’s paintings mostly use acrylic and aquaboard, quite literally transforming trash to treasure. Exposing human consumption is dark, but Webb confronts it with light and hope, asking, “Could or should these products be destined for something other than burial under the Earth’s surface, out of sight, out of mind, in their new, less malleable material state?” The potential for new ideas. “And hopefully the uncanny beauty of bulky trash piles provides a pleasant bedrock for philosophical contemplation.” There is potential for change and redemption.
Our final “locale” is represented by David Leonard’s powerful cityscapes. The density of Leonard’s panoramic paintings gives a sense of the extraordinary size of some of our country’s largest cities. Oftentimes, natural elements are featured alongside these sweeping metropolises, as if to accent their range. Leonard is reluctant to condemn these spaces, as he prefers to evoke contemplation, to acknowledge complexities. He explains, “The paintings are meant to be ambiguous—they can be seen as an indictment of human waste and contemporary alienation, or, simultaneously, they can be understood as silent tributes to the fundamental tools of our society that we all too often ignore.” His paintings remind us of scenes that are all too familiar, and yet, we begin to consider them in new and novel ways.
Examining our impact upon the earth is a journey through complexity; it is a journey which demands patience in understanding our tendencies and subsequent repercussions. Among rubbish and decay, there is potential to stumble upon hope. Texas Disposal Systems Exotic Wildlife Ranch is one such example of hope. After selecting an eight-foot game fence to border their landfill, because of its minimally industrial look, TDS brought in endangered wildlife to thrive in the space. They now have animals from every continent except Antarctica, and also donate the space to various non-profits for fundraising events. See? Humans may leave giant stains, but there are also those who are willing to wipe up the mess.
Earth, Land, Property is on exhibit at Davis Gallery through December 1, 2018.