Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “catastrophe”

Endgame IV

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began contaminating the Gulf of Mexico, and resisted containment for an agonizing and appalling 87 days. By the time its crude flow was contained on July 15, 2010 it was considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. Its effects on the Gulf ecosystem–already compromised by ruthless industry–are still felt today.

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Photograph: U.S. Coast Guard

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Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

Likewise, I still feel the knot in my stomach and the lump in my throat whenever I revisit those infamous photos of oil-slicked turtles and birds, and the brown stain spreading across crystal blue waters. With no small amount of internal conflict I revel at the heartbreakingly beautiful shots of fluffy smoke plumes ascending from a smooth field of blue that recedes forever in all directions, melting into a milky white ozone haze…the artistic serenity of the scenes always belied the senseless threat to life that I couldn’t help but know was unfolding.

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Photograph: Charlie Riedel/AP

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Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP

Equally inspired by both fragile beauty and tragic destruction, I recently painted  another in my emerging series of vessels and catastrophe, with a working title of Endgame IV:

Endgame 4

Endgame IV, oil on panel, 12 x 24in, 2013

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Endgame IV (detail)

Meanwhile, lessons that could have been learned by the ultra-powerful, the elites, the vanguards of corporate capitalism have fallen by the wayside. Right now in my current home of Texas, a foreign corporation, TransCanada, is using the supposed 5th Amendment right of eminent domain to confiscate private land belonging to Americans in order to build a massive oil pipeline called the Keystone XL. This new profit artery will enable TransCanada to transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, in order to sell it to countries around the world. This is, not surprisingly, what got me thinking about and eventually revisiting those Deepwater Horizon photos again during my continued search for reference material for this developing series.

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As the status quo marches on, Our world, like the pristine and fragile vessel poised on the verge of ruin, is left to wonder: is the next deepwater disaster on the horizon?

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New Vessels

Lately I’ve been brainstorming and refining a new artistic vision, taking the opportunity of any downtime between large surgery paintings to complete some smaller, fast-paced still lifes with a much different palette and ambiance.

These pieces utilize clean forms and simple compositions, attempting a confluence of opposites to symbolize the precarity of industrial civilization in the new millennium, the increasing sense of dread among many who see the global destructiveness and the coming end of late-stage capitalism:

Serenity and catastrophe…the mundane and the dramatic…solidity and ethereality.

Like much of my work these pieces are also influenced by Buddhist philosophy, with smooth surfaces representing the perfection of form that simultaneously experiences impermanence: smoke, flames, and ultimately, annihilation. These vessels are bodies facing their inevitable destruction through aging, inflammation and disease.  These vessels are the purification of the ego, burning away its own delusion and illusion.

 

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Endgame II, oil on panel, 6 x 7in, 2012

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Endgame III, oil on board, 6.5 x 7.5in, 2012-13

This budding series is an expansion and evolution of the themes broached in another less recent painting, which of course is also a metaphor for the edifices of civilization and their approaching collapse; the rise and fall of human achievement:

Endgame 1

Endgame I, oil on canvas, 5 x 7in, 2009-12

My plan (completely subject to change in the winds of artistic inspiration or be ground in the gears of other life obligations) is to continue to refine these concepts and build up to scenes of larger scale and higher complexity, as I wind down my Apostasy series this year.  Who knows what will actually happen, but I’m excited and nervous about finding new challenges. So stay tuned for more updates on both endeavors.

 

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Small, medium, and large…