American Prosperity is a series of evocative mixed media panels about stumbled upon abandoned places. The pieces are made using photographic images combined with a variety of materials, from paint on wood or canvas to cast concrete colored with charcoal, stains and pastels. The resulting panels, each of them one of a kind, enlarge the mood evoked by an image and the memories of being in the place where the image was captured.
The series, which began as a personal project and caught fire for me, explores a number of different themes: the unknown stories these buildings hold when seen from the perspective of a passer by, a sense of place, abandonment, and the question of where we are as a society.
Initially, the impetus for this project was my attraction to the dark moodiness of the abandoned buildings in the images, and the desire to expand the feelings they evoked for me during my brief visit. When I am passing through a place and happen upon an interesting building without knowing its history, questions occur to me about its past: Who lived or worked here? Why did they leave? Is this a sad story, or one of better opportunity, or maybe neither? Moving beyond the sort of obvious questions, as I worked deeper into the series, I began to think about our sense of place and how we identify with where we live and work, and create an environment that is unique to each of us. The buildings I find are representations of the extension of ourselves we create with our places.
After several years of working on this and pondering what continued to drive it, I began to think about the abandonment of places, abandonment in general, and how I had seen other possibilities and moved away from the place I was born and raised and all that it held for me – family, friends, a promising long term job, a cool place to live – for the chance at a new start and a new adventure across the country in an amazing place with a woman I was absolutely smitten with. This was perhaps the best choice I have ever made, yet it did come with some bitter parts to temper the sweet. Having built a life and family in a new place, which all these years later is as familiar, easy and as much home as any place has ever been for me, I have to wonder if my son will have the urge to make a new start somewhere else, and what his motivations might be for doing so.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about these places in a metaphorical sense, and wondering about a different sort of abandonment. It’s more of a societal abandonment, an abdication of some basic things that has left our collective house in ill repair. Things like community, connection with other people and the planet, a willingness to help out without compensation or recognition, a sense of compassion and empathy, a desire to do the right thing rather than the easy thing. Rather than seeing this as a complete bummer, I see us as being at a crossroads where we can each choose how we will proceed. I find hope in that.