I had the great opportunity to read James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” with a group of my friends in Detroit in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I think this group really helped me see the depth and scope of the book that would have been much more difficult, and much less fun on my own. At that time, I never imagined that this revolutionary avant-garde novel would ultimately, for me, be so strongly connected with an Oklahoma landscape painter.
Upon moving to Manhattan, Kansas from Detroit a few years ago my interest in landscape began. This was inspired by the rolling Flint Hills which native Manhattanites encounter almost everyday in contrast to the urban sprawl of Detroit. In researching ways to apply this interest in my paintings, I was fortunate to discover the work of Oklahoma landscape painter Alexandre Hogue. One of his paintings, “Mother Earth Laid Bare,” caught my eye. This painting renders a human female figure embedded into the hills and valleys, ripped of all vegetation. You can view an image of the painting here. My thoughts immediately turned to the “Wake’s” Finn MacCool.
Finn MacCool is a geographic avatar, one of many avatars in the “Wake,” for the main hero of the novel. MacCool is a hybrid mythological giant that lays asleep, embedded deep in the landscape of Dublin. His head is the eastern Howth peninsula on Dublin Bay with his body reclined beneath the city and his feet two mounds in Phoenix Park on the west end of town – MacCool dreams of Irish history and mythology. [ the image above is shot from “James Joyce A-Z,” by Fargnoli and Gillespie, published by Oxford University Press, a valuable resource for anyone trying to tackle Joyce ]
For most of my painting career, I have embedded texts, and now more recently, schematic language into the surfaces of my paintings. Joyce’s Finn MacCool always had fascinated me, but Hogue’s “Mother Earth” was a key visual link for translating the land with my embedded graphic language. Later, I discovered that beyond illustrating the ideas in “Mother Earth,” Hogue was ultimately able to translate that intellect and energy of the land onto the surfaces his later “Big Bend” paintings.
And here I am in Ireland, seeking to translate the dreams of my own Finn MacCool embedded in the landscape – thinking of Irish history and mythology – using the insight of an Oklahoma landscape painter.