631, oil and original acrylic gel transfer photograph on back-framed panel, 24 x 18 x 2.25 inches.
Two months ago, I wrote about the wildfires consuming the forests. The Las Conchas fire became the largest wildfire in New Mexico history, burning more than 150,000 acres, a third of them the first night, fueled by 60 mph winds. I watched it from my front porch, wishing I could do something for the animals made homeless or worse by the inferno. From my back yard, I watched smoke from the Pacheco fire, burning ten miles up the watershed. I started this painting when the fires were new. They continued, and I continued, for weeks.
I began by photographing an abandoned gas station at 631 Cerrillos Road. It had been a street art magnet for fifteen years. When I photographed it, I did not know it would be cordoned off and demolished within a few days. The disappearance of the gas station coincided with the erasure by the forest fires of human-built structures in the forest and of other, less tangible constructs that a fire of this order brings into question.
As I lay awake at night listening to the whir of water-bearing helicopters, the howling of coyotes, and the drone of planes dropping chemical goo on the fires, the painting began to take shape. I applied a mirror image of the gas station photo to a panel, using the acrylic gel transfer process, and then several layers of PVA ground. The gas station became a place of uneasy refuge for the forest animals I painted over it in oils. Meanwhile, bears and deer roamed the night streets of Los Alamos, driven into the strange urban landscape by the destruction of their habitat and nourishment. When I completed the painting, our summer rains finally arrived, and the fires were out, leaving 160,000 acres of charred wilderness.