January 6, 2021
An insurrection. I set everything aside that day and watched the news unfold, furious. In the afternoon I laced up my running shoes and set off around Samish Island. On my way back the water was still, the sky and water yellow, and the plumes from March Point were lit up and reflected in the water.
Pollution. It’s interesting in art. Do we show it? Do we remove it and paint an untouched landscape? Do we ignore it?
54% of all oil refined in Washington State is refined at Cherry Point, in Whatcom County. Cancer rates near the refineries are high. We ignore that, it’s background and part of our landscape, and so even today there are people talking about adding more refining capacity at Cherry Point. And except for a small refinery near Tacoma, the rest of the oil produced in our state is refined at March Point on Padilla Bay.
You can see the March Point refinery in the distance. I paint the lights, the plumes, the reflections. Sometimes they’re part of my landscape, and sometimes I highlight them. But I never ignore them. I think there are important conversations to have regarding our impact.
But back to January 6th. When I saw that beautiful view on the day of the insurrection, it gutted me. And reminded me of a favorite poem, referencing one of my favorite artists.
Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Shocking things happen and those things move history in a slightly different direction, while at the same time there’s beauty and ordinary life.