Montana industrial landscapes : reflections on place
Salix, Nolan G.
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As a painter I am intrigued with large scale industrial sites that have transformed or are transforming the Montana landscape. I am drawn to their monumental scale as well as the visible alteration of earth that occurs at such sites. Montana’s industrial history is easily visible in the presence of both working and abandoned old structures as well as in the physical alterations left by various extraction industries. The superfund site in Butte and the controversial tire-burning plant in Trident are both examples of natural places transformed into industrial landscapes. After observing these sites for hours or days, I begin to look past the negative content traditionally associated with such sites. My impressions instead become more deeply realized as I recognize the formal beauty inherent in the site itself. Many of these sites may be sources of harm or death to various life forms, yet they are also exquisite in color and captivating in design. My use of non-traditional media and technique is inspired by the industrial materials and processes used by the industries at the sites. I use these materials and techniques in order to simulate the history of the site. For example in the Berkley Pit an image of a large copper mine, the site is represented by panels of copper that cover the entire painting surface. I mimic the historical practice of mining by chemically altering the copper with various patinas and violating the integrity of the surface by physically removing part of the copper. In the painting, Phillips\Exxon, motor oil and roofing tar give the artwork the aroma and texture representative of an actual oil refinery. My work demands that the viewer contemplates the Montana industrial landscape in a manner previously inexperienced. The scale of my paintings is large in order to present the materials in a manner that expresses the immensity of the place. Working on such large panels, often six by eight feet in size, demands a large amount of physical effort and skill when working outside in the harsh winter climate of Montana. Often, a natural weather pattern, such as wind, rain and snow, creates an effect on my paintings by physically altering my applications during the paintings development. Working in plein air has pushed my painting style to become more experimental and physically engaging which has resulted in a deeper understanding of the landscape. Both my chosen materials and my naturalistic approach to painting help to represent the physical essence of the Montana industrial landscape. Though these sites may be seen as dirty, and even ugly to some, there is an aesthetic beauty inherent in these landscapes that compels me to look deeper.