I grew up exploring the forests and coastlines of rural Maine, but for the past ten years I lived in cities—Boston, Paris, San Francisco, and now Seattle. My dislocation every few years lends me a heightened awareness of place, a drive to investigate the stories behind a landscape, past and present. I explore which buildings are new, which old ones remain, how people experience a place at present, and how people have changed it over time to meet the needs of a growing population.

My research moves me from city to the surrounding countryside. I search for moments of peace in parks and on hiking trails to process my place within a changing climate. As news of the rapid changes in the environment heightens to a deafening level, I seek to reconcile how a landscape so still and seemingly pristine can contain such turbulence and danger. Fragments stick—children playing by the lake, storm footage from the Carolinas and Houston, the tearing down of an old building or retention of its façade, the chirping forest steps away. I collect these pieces of figures and events, and paint the places around me. Research into their history—rocks carved by glaciers, the construction of hydroelectric dams in the Pacific Northwest, the creation or “reclamation” of land in Singapore—lends a heightened awareness of human impact on the environment over time. I seek to reveal the hidden stories of a locale, mixing myth, memory, and visions of the future.

 Back in the studio, I source from news clippings, archival photos, my own snapshots, and observational paintings. I research how artists have represented a particular place in the past—which stories are told or idealized and which are omitted. My studies from nature follow many of the tropes of traditional plein-air painting through observations of light, color relationships, and space. Yet, when taken back into the studio, the paintings transform and become a collage of the sites I experienced and a reinvention of an historical event, memory, or fictional tale that occurred there. Often painted in muted, murky colors with hints of saturation, the paintings reflect a particular darkness surrounding events of the past. Ghostly figures disappear amid plantlike forms, as though predicting a time when nature is allowed to regrow over abandoned remnants. The work can present a conflicting view of a place; the innocence of a childhood experience in nature contrasts with the sense of something coming, a storm on the horizon.

Oftentimes I work in serial imagery in paint, print, or video. The progression of still or moving images more easily tells the story of a changing landscape over time. I balance representation and abstraction, clarity and obscurity. Painted figures and plants fragment and blur, reflecting on the vague nature of memory and erasure of history. Each piece evokes an elusive narrative: a compilation of observations and inventions. The meaning of a painting unfolds over cyclical time while layers of paint and projection open up possibilities in the story’s evolution for viewer and artist alike.

© 2019 by Abigail Drapkin.