About this project
After the election of Donald Trump by the electoral votes of "red" states, I felt like I didn’t know who or what my country was. Like many Americans on both sides, my feelings of animosity and incredulity were projected cleanly within state lines due to the artificial boundaries imposed by the electoral college. As a painter who paints places as a way to negotiate my sense of belonging in them, it felt natural to paint the parts of my country that felt foreign to me. While Donald Trump is president, I am visiting as many red states as I can and then making paintings about my experiences there. The resulting paintings are not portraits of red states. They are semi-abstract, landscape-based paintings that are about my experiences in red states. I am doing this project so as to not hate my country. It is working.
From January 2017 - January 2021, I am taking short trips to several red states each year. While there, I meet people, take pictures, and make notes and drawings. Then I come back to my studio in Seattle and make a group of paintings based on my experiences. In each state I visit, I am asking people who live there where they think I should go in their state. I ask them to choose places that they think is important in some way - which I have left open to their interpretation and have included such places as the Grand Canyon, a haunted restaurant, the projects where they live, and city parks. When I go to the places people tell me to go, I'm thinking about those people and their stories. I'm also having my own experience in the place. All make their way into the paintings, sometimes in an abstract, minimal way, sometimes in a more recognizable way.
My goal for the paintings is for them to communicate something (however odd or abstract) about the place they represent, so that the person experiencing the painting ends up feeling licked by the place, and by painting.
I am reading Moby-Dick while I do this project. Part of the title of each painting (the part in parentheses) is a chapter title in Moby-Dick. I am on a journey of intimacy with our country. I must be stalwart as I pursue my whale so as not to be slain in the process.
You can read my experiences in each state in my red country trip diary, here.
"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball."
- Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851
Frequently Asked Questions
(Thank you for asking questions!)
FAQ: If you want true "Red Country" [insert name of red state], I suggest you locate an AirB&B or something in the [insert part of red state] region. Our area of [insert name of red state] is one of the rare bluish areas of the state.
A: I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your comment and your suggestion. But/and, the project is inspired by the artificial divide created by the electoral college. If I wanted to go to a red state I could drive 45 minutes in any direction (from Seattle). But according to the electoral college, which is responsible for the socio-political narrative of our country right now, as it is the force that made DT president, the redness and blueness is along state lines. So, anywhere in any red state counts!
FAQ: Can you really experience a state in just a few days?
A: No. I’m not trying to experience all that a state has to offer. My goal is just to have my own experiences in the state. If I got the flu in a red state and spent my entire time on the couch, that would still count as my experience in that state.
FAQ: How/why do you think you have a right to represent a place you’re not from?
A: I do not have a right to represent a place I’m not from, and I am not trying to do that. My goal is only to have my own experiences in a place I’m not from and to make paintings about it.
FAQ: This project seems really political but your paintings don’t look political at all to me. They just look like weird abstract landscape paintings.
A: What does the weird mean when you look at it? What information is recognizable? What seems obscured or missing? Are the colors natural/representational or are they kissy melty or are they off-putting? What could that mean? How much meaning can be generated just by looking and wondering? How does knowing the concept behind the project inform your visual-sensory experience? Do concept and painting need to be separate? Why? Can it be a political act to let a landscape lick you?