These small paintings are part of an ongoing project called “Watershed Anecdotes” which pairs expressive mappings with abstracted landscape paintings. In each I seek to connect an abstract, Cartesian logic with lived experience.
Each painting reveals the interplay between a road or property boundary—by happenstance located on a subdivision of the Jeffersonian grid--and a swerve, where local features intervene.
The Jeffersonian grid is formally the Public Land Survey System. It was initiated by Thomas Jefferson to efficiently subdivide lands beyond the original 13 colonies and it expanded west as the United States proceeded to conquer the continent. Many roadways and land subdivisions, including every straight line in these paintings, are part of the totalizing logic of the Jeffersonian grid.
Meanwhile, the elements I characterize here as “swerves”—a lake, a river, an old footpath with its totemic tree, and two springs flowing to different watersheds—resist the logic of the grid. These topographies explain, in part, why the terrain portrayed in these paintings has been continuously inhabited for several thousand years. They offer hints toward a more resilient, localized future.
Spatial grids are efficient and apparently egalitarian. Yet by ignoring local circumstances, they reinforce a logic of universality at the expense of the specific and unique. One result is what author Richard Heinberg describes as “globalization’s anti-resilience, or brittleness.” As Heinberg argues, life on our Earth requires “an appropriate balance between centralization and decentralization, and between economic efficiency on one hand, and redundancies that foster resilience on the other.”
I offer this series of paintings as both an example of the spatial logic of capitalism, and a metaphor for its antidote.
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