The original photo-montage combines scenes from Isabela Island in the Galapagos (once again) and Dartmoor National Park in Devon, United Kingdom. Like High Desert, it suggests a direct transition from treeless montane bog or moorland down to desert (though slightly less dry in this case)--a juxtaposition that probably can't really occur in nature. The two areas of white are meant to represent clouds or mist resting within and just below the moorland, setting it apart but also allowing glimpses of the arid landscape maybe only tens of meters below.
As in the other photo-montages that I've re-created in oil paints, or plan to re-create, I felt that the photo-shopping effect in this one is a bit too dominant, and that overall the composition lacks atmosphere. My goal in the photography, generally, has been to create environments that are forbidding in their emptiness, scale-lessness, harshness and other-worldliness, but also alluring for these same reasons. In the painting, I've tried to use added ambiguity to heighten these qualities as well as the overall sense of mystery.
A next step in the paintings might be to further obscure the meaning of these works as representations landscape and physical space, to focus on atmosphere and imagination alone. The fragments could be turned sideways or upside-down, upsetting the primarily horizontal structure.
Dartmoor is located in southwestern England, in an upland area with elevations of up to 2000 ft and receiving as much as 80 in. of rainfall annually. The boggy, treeless condition of much of the region is primarily the result of deforestation during prehistoric times as well as the resulting acidification of the soil, although the area's relatively high rainfall and cool temperatures (its growing season is only about half the length of that in the surrounding countryside) have probably helped to prevent the forest from returning. The area has been designated a National Park in an effort to protect its unique character and ecology (in addition to prehistoric ruins and more recent cultural artifacts) from threats such as mining and military use.
My use of this landscape in the composition, despite its anthropogenic origins and lack of proximity to any desert, highlights what I find to be the experiential similarities among moorland environments throughout the world. In fact Dartmoor's cultural history, encompassing not only the physical evidence of ancient civilizations but also numerous legends and ghost stories, alleged visits by the devil, mysterious stone crosses, a modern-day prison, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles, is an essential complement to its peat bogs, windswept hills, rocky outcroppings and swirling mists.
Although the actual moorland image comes from temperate Europe, I had in the back of my mind the pampa (or fern-sedge) zonefound at the summits of the higher islands in the Galapagos archipelago. This zone appears at surprisingly low elevations - around 700m above sea level on Santa Cruz Island - and not because rainfall levels are particularly high. Rainfall may reach 120 in. in some years - certainly saturated compared to the deserts at sea level, but about the same amount as in wetter parts of the Amazon rainforest and less than a third or fourth as much as in the wettest parts of Kauai. In the Galapagos, there are simply no trees (except for one species of tree fern, if that counts) that have evolved to withstand these conditions. Unfortunately, this also means that the pampa environment is dangerously susceptible to invasion by non-native trees, competing with native species as well as changing the physical character of the landscape. One of the most threatening, Cinchona pubescens or the Red Quinine Tree, was introduced for cultivation on Santa Cruz Island in 1946. (Visit the link for images showing how the landscape has been transformed over the past 50 years.) Fortunately, efforts are underway to eradicate the species in some areas.