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Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Roadside Apocalypse

These paintings are an extension of an earlier series called Roadside America which in the end were somewhat unfocused as to what I was trying to get across.
In 2016 I wrote in the Roadside America section of my book Dreamland  "It is not the modern bustling city that I'm interested in but the places where time has not marched on and has rather left them behind, the look of the America that I saw on television growing up in the 60s when there were many hit American shows broadcast in the UK. The urban architecture, the billboards, the cars, the colours looked so iconic of America in that era although tempered with the threat of the Cold War always there in the background".

"This feeling is very much reflected in "Main Street" above, where I have a lone vapour trail streaking over the landscape... is it a Soviet bomber? Where has everybody gone, are they hunkered down in their fallout shelters waiting for the end of the world?"
It is this theme that I am now developing in Roadside Apocalypse, the American urban landscape overlaid with the threat of the Cold War which somehow seems to have returned with the reemergence of Russia as a Superpower now vying again for power on the global stage.
When I was a kid in the 50s and early 60s in the UK I have memory of my parents going out one night leaving me alone in the house. I heard a lone jet aircraft passing over high in the sky and wondered could that be a Soviet bomber on it's way to drop the H Bomb. It must have affected me because I still remember it frightening me. This was the height of the Cold War period and that threat was always there in the background even for a twelve year old kid. The world of Dr Strangelove was real, 24 hours a day.
Many American TV shows were shown in the UK back then and the American urban landscape became very familiar to us. When I finally got to the USA in 1979 it was at the tail end of the big gas-guzzling cars era and many older buildings were being knocked down and replaced by more modern architecture. In more recent years as the world becomes more homogenised (Americanised?) a lot of the USA looks like anywhere else and the older America of my childhood TV days is harder to find... but it's still out there, you just have to go and look for it.
All the locations I paint are in the present day American landscape. My subject matter is not Americana per se, I might well have a motel sign or diner in a picture but I'm much more interested in a relatively ordinary street scene in a small nondescript town with that older architecture of the earlier half of the last century preferably somewhat run down.
These paintings enable me to incorporate a subject that I am becoming increasingly interested in painting - clouds and skies. I have always felt that the sky can set the mood for a painting and with these pictures they not only do that but are also very much part of the underlying theme that I am interested in. I have finally also been able to include a penchant of mine for huge single storm clouds that previously didn't go with the subject matter of the painting as it always looked too apocalyptic - now it fits! The clouds will never be atomic explosions as such, they will always be storm clouds, it's just about suggestion. I like to keep the scenes empty and deserted which gives them a surreal and nightmarish quality although an abandoned car here and there adds to the possible narrative... what has happened? Somebody has suddenly stopped their car in the middle of the road and ran for it... what is that looming shadow in the foreground all about? Is it an invasion of alien machines like War Of The Worlds?
There is a feeling of nostalgia in these pictures which I have been amplifying by using colours that have a quality of those old colour photographs shot on Kodachrome that people of my generation still have from those days.
The cloud from a nuclear explosion like the cloud of ash from a volcano or an approaching storm have been described as having a terrible beauty and that is what I'm aiming for with these paintings - maybe beautiful in terms of colour etc but mixed in is the dread of Cold War extinction. That's the kind of picture that I like to paint. beauty tinged with darkness and mystery...


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1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I too am of a similar generation to you, Mark (much younger, of course) and I also remember the tiny TV screens of my childhood being filled with welcome Americana. When the Cuban missile crisis was happening I remember being asked in the school playground- “so who do you think will win?”
    “Win what?” I asked.
    “the atomic war!” It was on everyone’s mind at the time, even schoolkids like a dark cloud hanging over us all. Things haven’t improved much, have they?