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Particulate Matter


Artwork as a form of environmental criticism.

The paintings emerge, in part, from thinking about nineteenth-century Hudson River School landscape paintings. Then, trying to reconcile the unadorned reverence those artists expressed towards the North American landscape, America’s potential, and creation with today’s conditions.

Those painters worked at the dawn of the industrial revolution. Now, one hundred and fifty years later, it is impossible to look at even the most remote and spectacular landscape without the implicit knowledge of a sprawling, highly technological, and extractive global economy. Does nature still look the same to us as it did to them? It seems reasonable to think that in the face of global capitalism, global warming, atheism, and a generally postmodern, scientific outlook, our view towards the natural world is complex in a different way.

The first series of paintings I exhibited in 2006 were of corporate retail architecture, “places” like Toys R Us, Walmart, Home Depot, and Subway. I was interested in landscapes that could serve as metaphors for some of the routine yet abstract aspects of our current condition—pictures that seemed relatively straightforward, but could touch on broader economic, political, and social themes. Pictures that were not overt critiques but rather, through their ambivalent tone, serve as open-ended reports. Poems instead of theses. The landforms in these paintings are not touched by the reach of industry, but the skies are are.

“Particulate Matter” refers to the suspended particles in the Earth’s atmosphere—some natural (from volcanoes, forest fires), and some man-made (CO2 emissions, cow shit)—that in high concentrations constitute air pollution and discoloration in the atmosphere. The paintings are not based on photographs or any source material. They are like improvised abstractions. The paintings are an attempt to explore a range of those conditions visually, from the dour to the lovely.


Jake Longstreth received his MFA from California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California, and a BA from Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon. He is a 2008 recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and has been featured in Art in America, Artforum, Turps Banana, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Longstreth lives and works in Los Angeles.

“Particulate Matter” will be on view at Monya Rowe Gallery from October 27 to January 5.

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