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Close encounter with the Californian Sublime

1% for the arts,

San Francisco International Airport

2016 -2017

Description​ : ​Close Encounter With The Californian Sublime​ is an altered painting of landscape painter William Keith called ​Landscape with Mount Shasta ​(circa 1888). A couple of tourists taking a photograph of themselves with a selfie stick and a grizzly bear have been added to the painting.

This image was conceived for SFO and its main themes are the California wild west depiction and myth, mountains, tourism and the occidental relations to the wild. Beside being coherent with the San Francisco airport, these topics are at the core of my artwork.

I have chosen ​Landscape with Mount Shasta​ by William Keith for its beauty, composition and depiction of a local mountain. Keith was based in San Francisco and this painting belongs to the California Historical Society(SF). Furthermore it speaks of strong aspects of contemporary bay area culture. I chose to add a few elements to propose a new lecture of the image and surprise the attentive viewer.

Scottish born William ​Keith was a close friend of John Muir, the founder of the Sierra club and ​the "father" of the National Parks system​, and both were hikers and profond lover of nature.​ Keith was an early painter of the California landscape sublime​.
The wild west painters of that period were already and gradually realising that the colonisation of the American West meant an end of the wilderness. For Keith, the question was not about evoking a pre-industrial agricultural world, but about the morality of intentionally destroying the wilderness. We now know the landscapes weren’t wild but tended for centuries by natives (​Tending the wild​ Kat Anderson). Water was often central in those paintings and was starting to be harnessed for gold and agriculture. Keith sometimes added glaciers to enhance the nature landscape while California was on its path of becoming a vast hydraulic system.

Keith’s painting holds key components of the bay area contemporary culture such as environmental awareness and mountaineering. Hiking and climbing clothes penetrated our bay area zhbn consumer habits and mountain gear companies are household names (REI, The North Face, Patagonia, Marmot...)
Paradoxically, Keith’s landscapes contributed to the fabrication of the myth of the west. American imperialists perceived the west through those epic landscape of unlimited natural resources. Wilderness’ commodities (fur, gold, lumber, land, and black gold) were deemed free for the taking by whoever could lay first claim and extract raw wealth in a provable, profitable manner. Keith’s art was collected by ​Collis Potter Huntington and Leland Stanford, influential businessmen, philanthropists and railroad tycoons who built the Central Pacific Railroad. His images functioned like advertisement for the West.
Landscape paintings also forged our sense of beauty. ​We tend to find beautiful what artists have taught us to find beauty in. The couple on the painting has found a spot from which they can photograph themselves within the nature’s grandiose backdrop. ​The California state bear also becomes a prop for their selfie. The whole wild is a consumable commodity for a culture of image and self. A few days ago, Pizza was declared the world’s saddest polar bear;; she lives alone in a chinese mall and serves as a backdrop for selfies. This image is a bewildered portrait of our time.
“Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.” ​― ​John Muir​, ​John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of Joh​n M​uir

1% pour l’ aéroport de San Francisco (obtenu mais non installé)

3.30m x 2.70m

Porcelaine sur acier

2016 -2017


Cette étude reprend un tableau de William Keith, peintre du paysage californien du 19ème siècle, intitulé Landscape with Mont Shasta. Un couple prenant un selfie et un grizzly ont été rajoutés au coeur du tableau. Ce type de peinture du paysage sublime a été une des images qui a contribuée à la fabrication du mythe californien. Elles étaient souvent commissionnées par les tycoons du chemin de fer et envoyées sur la côte Est pour des expositions de propagande. La nature y est vierge, abondante en eau et en espace et se prête à toute entreprise. 


Ce type de peintures, où la nature est presque divine, coïncide avec la naissance des grands parcs nationaux, mais aussi la ruée vers l’or et le génocide de la culture indienne. Pour les indiens, ces paysages étaient tout sauf vierges, nous savons aujourd’hui que la Californie était un vaste jardin comme l’était la forêt amazonienne, des millénaires de gestion du sauvage. 


La culture de la montagne et une conscience environnementale restent de très forts composants de la culture contemporaine de la Bay area. Le couple souligne une forme actuelle de marchandisation de la nature, et une attitude touristique qui engage peu d’échanges avec la Terre. 

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