Artist Statement: Ghost of Sea

From the Arctic to the Gulf, from the Continental Divide to the Mississippi River, 100 million years ago, the Western Interior Seaway flowed over this land; today it is prairie – the Interior Plains of Canada and the Great Plains of the Untied States.

The Western Interior Seaway, an ancient inland sea, was created when a tectonic plate subducted under another, causing a depression. This depression and the high sea levels at that time allowed waters to flow in from the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean. Then 50 million years ago, an uplift hoisted sandstone and shale above sea level, and the low-lying basins gradually subsided. The Western Interior Seaway retreated south towards the Gulf of Mexico. The land became dry.

Alan Paine Radebaugh has been painting the strata and flora of this region since 2008. He has driven many one- and two-lane roads winding through the Plains. He has sketched at the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, currently a muddy streamlet expanding as it flows downward; Galveston Island State Park in Texas where the vastness and power of the ancient seas are still visible; in the mountains and deserts of New Mexico which hold the earth’s history; National grasslands in Nebraska, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming where prairie grasses grow in now dried sea beds; the still raw Canadian Rockies and ice fields of Alberta. Each magical place is awash in millions of years of natural history. 

Driving, walking, drawing, and photographing for weeks on the road, Alan returns to his studio in New Mexico to paint. He paints not only the strata and flora of today’s Plains but also his awe of and fascination with the history of 100 million years.

Paintings from this project, Ghost of Sea, meld images from one place with those from another to create an overall impression of the Plains—with a ghost-like feel of the ancient seas. Images from Black Kettle National Grassland are shuffled in Radebaugh’s memory and imagination with images from Oglala National Grassland. Images of the headwaters of the Mississippi mingle with those of the headwaters of the Missouri. The paintings, thus, reflect an impression of the Plains rather than document a particular site.

“Since my first exposure to the Plains 40 years ago, I have imagined the sea rolling over this land--the waves, massive and powerful, stretching in all directions for millions of years, pounding over a seabed of silt and rocks. I have looked out over these vast open spaces and seen the Sea, a sea that 100 million years ago stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean and from the Rockies to the Mississippi River.”

Alan Paine Radebaugh
Statement Ghost of Sea Project
Summer 2014



Artist Statement: Mass: Of Our World

These organic shapes I see them in everything, the sky, the shadows, and the shadows from the clouds, the clouds themselves, the sides of mountains, and the dirt. They are there: looking into a streambed, the leaves, and the space between the leaves. These shapes that I relate to are absolutely everywhere. I see them as the compilation. I mean this is obvious… all these little shapes piled on top of each other make up the physical world; these are the building block, the structure. It's a pile of these little building blocks just packed together in various ways.

Jonson Six

Jonson Six

These particular paintings, these Jonson paintings, are a hodge-podge of all these different shapes, these building blocks. As I'm painting these things there's a sense of undisclosed rules, the way these things relate to each other.

As things get stuck together, these building blocks, in this structure, or even in this chaos, there seems to be rules to the way they are manifest, the shapes….

There's a lot of great stuff out in the world, and that's where I pull from. I look and the more I look, the more similar these abstract shapes that interest me seem to be. There's a commonality, in these funny little shapes, there seems to be some rules to them, some kind of rules to the composition of these forms, and I don't really have a clue, but over the years I have the sense that there are some rules. Somehow they all just seem to fit together, they are the building blocks, they seem to be the structure, the mass of our world. The shapes add up. So these Jonson paintings they are a compilation of these forms, these organic forms, the kinetic suggestion here of the dynamics, the flow, the movement….

Through the ambiguity of positive and negative space, some of the interest, pictorial interest, comes in, as one time you look at it, you're seeing down behind the scum of a pond or you're looking….

The congealing of gasses is an interesting metaphor. The jazz, the chaos of all these shapes, all this stuff part of the structure, chaos, motion, dynamics, gas, the suggestion of some excited state, some of the larger forms congealing, there is a building up of mass, things become/are, amidst all the activity, the hyper-activity, there is this condensing of form, from the filigree, there is this congealing of material, corporeal. I dream a corporeal manifest. Eddies, opportunity…

The congealing is interesting also, for I think of all the paintings I've ever made as making up the larger painting.

And just like I don't know what rules are here, I couldn't say what makes these forms, or what this form is; I don't know just what the rules are here for the individual paintings, I don't know what the rules are, I don't know what the bigger painting is. Maybe something that will be disclosed, revealed, just as these "rules" are teasing in the suggestion of becoming evident.

When I was younger, when I was thirteen, twelve, something like that, I did a lot of these drippy paintings, and at one point, after covering the walls of my bedroom, I painted the ceiling in a large, organic, amorphous shape, black and white, I could stare up at it from the floor or from my bed or from this little couch that I had in my bedroom, I would get to dream on the shape, it was built from the sensibility, the sensibility of what my arm did at a certain distance, which is kind of what the brush does here, it has its limitations….

When I paint these, I get to dream in the space that is becoming, it's as if I let myself be this, and be this force that over time shapes these shapes out there in the world, I let myself kind of emulate that force, being the water, the wind, I am the water, the water and the wind, those things that make these shapes, defaulting to a Darwinian… it's like defaulting to a kind of shape that is the most efficient, given the environment of friction, force and wear and influence. So, I get to sit here and let my brush do that, pulling paint, pulling paint off, pulling paint off from an adjacent color, and pulling it into the color I am working, getting that flow and adding to that suggestion of dynamic, very painterly.

I like form and these are the forms. Form and color, it is simply an excuse for painting, an excuse for dragging around these paints, and being the wind and water, outside of the act of the brush doing the work, outside of me making the brush doing the work, it is just the brush doing the work.

The process of painting follows rules. The process, the process is in the doing, the doing is the end, the end is the journey, the journey is the flow, and every one of these little spaces is a huge whole world that I get to dream in. The shapes are determined also by the way the brush works, you know, and that is part of the rules, the laws of abrasion, and resistance and least resistance is how this particular environment influences the shape. The brush has its limitations, its limitations are based in time, you can fuss or you don't fuss, and in this case I don't fuss. The brush has its limitations, the size of the brush, the shape of the brush, is just one of the parameters that builds these paintings.

I started joining the canvasses some years back. The individual paintings would bump up against the other and there would be this suggestion of continuity. And sometimes I started making that work a little bit, beyond the serendipitous part of it, but mostly that's where it came from, these individual paintings being haphazardly joined, making up another environment, making up whole environments, suggesting space that individuals don't do, so they become additional building blocks.

There is an Imperative. A Necessity. The paintings must be so; because of the paint; because of time; because I move into automatic mode and this is what ends up. Hours evaporate. Painting a little section of the painting, the mind goes blank, and there is "frenzy" in the brush, the paint just flows. Working with the palette promotes the speed of painting that's part of the process here, what happens in that short time. Alla Prima. The palette promotes that, immediate, immediacy.

I rather like the idea of plasma, I think of hot gasses or something happening out in space, I kind of fantasize on that, looking at these paintings, that there is this major zip of things just racing around, and bumping into each other, or flowing in some kind of fluid, dynamic.

And right akin to all that is the thought of all the souls of the world from way back at the beginning, all the entities that have grown, and thrived and breathed and done their stuff here on this earth, in the universe, that these are those things, that the forms are those things, that our bodies are made up from this stuff from out in the AEther, and there's a commonality there, molecules are made up of Grand-pa-pa, and the dinosaurs, monster fish, exploding star. Stuff flows through us now, cells regenerate, and pull in stuff, there's a conservation of energy somewhere that makes all these things be from some other place, it's not created, it is and then it congeals, some dance, no lost souls.

Some kind of beat, some beat, I think, it's a beat, some kind of beat.

Alan Paine Radebaugh
January 2007


Written for "Mass: Of Our World", Radebaugh's exhibition at the Jonson Gallery of the University of New Mexico Art Museum, October - December 2007.