“I will show you fear in a handful of dust”: An Earth Day Exhibit, featuring paintings and installations by visual artist Erick Sánchez.
The Gallery Space at Wagner/Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University.
Curated by Frankie Crescioni-Santoni and Ann Chwatsky
In commemoration of International Earth Day and in conjunction with Earth Week at NYU, visual artist Erick Sánchez has created four abstract-expressionist landscape paintings, installation work, and works on paper for the exhibit, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust”: An Earth Day Exhibit. These are the latest pieces in his environmentally-focused project, Dangerous Land, which gives visual representation to the consequences of human behavior and the concomitant natural disasters which are the results of globalization, industrialization, and global warming. With this project, Sánchez argues for intensified environmental conservation efforts.
The inspiration for the exhibit’s central painting, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” is lines 19-30 1 from Part I, “The Burial of the Dead,” of T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land. In this well-known section of the poem, Eliot adapts some of its crucial imagery—the rocky, barren landscape, the absence of life-giving water, and the dead or dying vegetation—from the Biblical books of Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Ecclesiastes to suggest that “rain” is the nourishment which will revive a dying culture in body and spirit. Likewise, Sánchez’s somber depiction of an arid poppy field, which offers no sustenance to the birds flying overhead, and menacing clouds, which serve as a harbinger of things to come, suggests that the world is moving towards crisis and chaos. The piece is also a re-interpretation of Monet’s Poppy Fields series; Sánchez revisits the scene to suggest the consequences of global warming and human-originated ecological disturbances some 150 years later. With the size of the painting, his use of contrasting colors for great effect, and the melancholic beauty of this powerful scene, Sánchez leaves the viewer with an intense psychological impression and confronts him or her to consider his or her particular role in the Earth’s future. Sánchez’s “Ahora lo tuyo no te pertenece” features another physically barren landscape, this time with an empty river; this wasteland points to the decay and destruction of human values in a world consumed by globalization, industrialization, and global warming. Our own mortality—“fear in a handful of dust”—is once again frighteningly revealed.
“Me distes oro del que no brilla” is Sánchez’s rendering of the worst environmental disaster the U.S. has faced: the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Sánchez’s thick brushstrokes and the intense blackness of the combination of materials used for the painting’s cresting waves of oil convey a sense of immediacy and danger. It is a painful reminder of the some 205.8 million gallons of oil spilled there and the 1,100,000 gallons of chemical dispersants used in the cleanup, as well as the extensive resulting damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries.
In this series of paintings, Sánchez is working with some unconventional combinations of materials, including recycled metals, clay, recycled rubber, glass beads, black magnum rock, and organic pigments, to make his acrylic paints very rich in texture. His “Works on Paper” series is an opportunity for him to showcase his impulsive brushwork; experiment with color, texture, and combination of materials; and get inspiration for future compositions. The exceptional intensity of emotions and instantaneity of these pieces make them true “mini-apocalypses.”
Regarding the natural disasters represented in his Dangerous Land series, Erick Sánchez has remarked: “Theologists call it the Apocalypse; the Rapture. I call it destiny.” In traditional Christian thought, “apocalypse” refers to some future cataclysmic event that will bring time to an end and inaugurate a new millennium. The apocalyptic mode, whether in the Bible, in literature, or art, involves a visionary who represents truth in word and image and encourages a change of heart and mind. With his visual manifesto, Erick Sánchez serves as an artistic seer affecting us with the “terrible” beauty of his landscapes, confronting us with our culpability and vulnerability and thereby motivating change. The immediacy suggested is fitting for Earth Day 2012.
Christina Godlewski, Ph.D.
1 What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (19-30)