outpost

island-oil painting-palm tree-sabal-beach
island-palm tree-ocean-beach-sabal-palm tree-curacao-christoffel-serra bientu

This composition represents the culmination of this series of works exploring increasingly isolated plant populations.  More than in Dry Patch, I wanted to depict this island as seemingly floating in space, disconnected from not only adjacent vegetation but also any other clearly recognizeable landscape -  suggesting for a moment that no other "inhabitable" environment exists anywhere.  When I created the composition I imagined the cluster of palms to be an "outpost" of a much larger population occurring on a mainland somewhere, possibly just beyond the horizon - the last dry land before thousands of miles of open ocean.  But, the empowering precariousness of the plants' situation might in fact be stronger without knowledge of this other place somewhere out of sight.

In the painting, I wanted to accentuate this feeling of vulnerability, isolation and overall surreality by emphasizing the strength of the wind and increasing the ambiguity of the surrounding components.  The section at the bottom is intended to represent shallow water over a sandy bottom, but the pieces in the upper left and upper right could represent either sea or sky - or something in-between.  That  the island looks as though it's actually starting to disintegrate, suggesting erosion by the wind and waves or even that it's made of something other than earth, was unplanned--but it does contribute to the overall mood.

Sabal palms on Serra Bientu, Curaçao (my photo)

Sabal palms on Serra Bientu, Curaçao (my photo)

Serra Bientu, with more Sabal palms in the distance (my photo)

Serra Bientu, with more Sabal palms in the distance (my photo)

The palms were photographed on the island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles at the top of a ridge called Serra Bientu ("Windy Mountain" in Papiamentu - I distinctly remember the sound of the palm fronds banging together) in Christoffel National Park.  These Sabal palms (I've strangely never been able to find out the species) are, as far as I know, found nowhere else except on this mountain.  They form nearly pure stands that quickly peter out into the surrounding dry forest.  

The density of the palms, their formal contrast with the surrounding vegetation, the topographical distinctiveness of their habitat, and in particular the fact that the entire global occurrence of the species can be seen from one spot (and probably explored within less than an hour), brought this place closer to my ideal than possibly any other I have visited. In fact, while it would have been perfect had the ridge itself been an island, I don't recall thinking this when I was there.  The ridgeline location itself probably felt sufficient enough to set the palms apart, and a water separation may have seemed unnecessarily insistent. The general sense of insularity created by the nearby ocean, however, must have contributed to the power of the experience.

Darren