Spontaneous Generation

oil and acrylic on canvas

2022-2023

 

My current painting series, Spontaneous Generation, evokes a re-enchanted world through subtly apocalyptic landscapes in a state of metamorphosis. As we scramble to distinguish humans from both nature and artificial intelligence, as the Enlightenment values that structure our basic understanding of the world around us wane in relevance, it makes sense to revisit the fuzzy time when the concept of modern science was still emerging. I take the late 17th century painting sub-genre of Sottobosco, as my entry point into this transitional time period. Meaning forest floor in Italian, Sottobosco combines Dutch still life painting with landscape and naturalist research, showing a fascination with grotesque beauty. In my contemporary interpretation of this genre, distortions sourced from AI-generated imagery are combined with precise botanical observations. In the background, the churned earth of construction sites show matter in a state of flux, directly referencing the phrase “spontaneous generation”, the belief that insects formed directly out of mud. The idea may seem ridiculous now, but I propose it as a useful reminder of how easy it is to forget the misinterpretations that lead to what becomes an accepted fact and how current paradigm shifts exist in the fog of the present. The scenes in my paintings are always set at twilight, reminiscent of the backlit glow of a screen, when forms lose their definition and a perception of animism can enter a landscape. As our machines learn to outsmart us, the language of animism that dominated the pre-Enlightenment world view is creeping back into our vocabulary, making a reinvestigation into this turning-point urgent.