Nov 3, 2011

PROFILE | Roxy Paine

Roxy Paine, Ferment, 2011, stainless steel

It is hard to talk about the work of Roxy Paine without mentioning the awesome power of nature.  He creates evocative works of art that are set amidst their environment, either nestling amongst the trees or growing out of the floorboards using materials such as metal and polymer to create stunning, other-worldly` depictions of nature.  

I am interested in both of these directions, or shall I say, these subjects are my budding inspiration within the study of art history.  The environment and technology seem to be dualistic ends with which our changing, adaptive society is beginning to have a central focus on, whether or not they are related to art.  Design, Sustainability, and ability to adapt to one's environment is seemingly at the forefront of a world that has long known of our dwindling natural resources as well as beginning to explore the implications of technological advancements.

This symbiosis between nature and technology is not necessarily always a beneficial one, as Paine suggests in his work.  Warping metal trees that appear to have been struck by lightning encircle the rooftop garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Psilocybe Cubensis Field, 2,200 polymer mushrooms coated with laquer and oil paint seem to grow right up out of the floor which for most people in an interior environment would be a serious problem.  But these are magic mushrooms, so it's no big deal, right?

Roxy Paine, Psilocybe Cubensis Field, 1997, polymer, laquer, oil paint

Paine's work focuses on the idea that we want to create these orderly rational tools to cope with our formidable environment, but it just doesn't seem to work.  Or does it? In Weed Choked Garden, Paine shows us a garden whose beauty is largely among the tall weeds that overgrow and choke the plants intended to grow there.  The book and documentary by Michael Pollan called The Botany of Desire discusses at length the devastating impacts monocultures can have in agriculture.
Roxy Paine, Weed Choked Garden, 1998-2005, thermoset plastic, polymer,oil paint, PETG, stainless steel, epoxy, laquer and pigment

This piece in particular seems to be talking directly about how human intervention spoils what might on its own be a beautiful, untouched, process. Paine seems to play with ideas such as these which pose not only questions about art process but also of inspiration and our ultimate disconnection with its roots. What the aim and purpose of Paine's art is then, is the amount or total lack of control we have over nature. Through the creation of Erosion machine he dealt with this subject head on. Paine built a machine that employs a robotic arm using specific data to program the arm with information about precipitation, temperature, wind speed, hours of sunlight to create something "natural." The artist seems consumed with this idea that we cannot create nature, we can only mimic it. In an interview with Joao Ribas for Artinfo in 2007, Paine talked about his process:

The tree evolved from doing the mushrooms and the fungus pieces and looking at these things as a language—the way something grows, the way it decays, the kinds of rot that grows on it. It’s part of a process where I try to learn each plant species I’m working with so well that I can improvise within their rules. Once you learn a language, you can create an infinite number of new sentences using the rules of that language.
So there is this bit of understanding the complexity of nature in order to create works of art that play within nature's limits.  I think that is the marvelous thing about Paine's work, it is man-made and yet oddly naturalistic at the same time.  It draws attention to matters of enormous magnitude, the environment in which we live.

-Sarah Beth Perry


  1. Consider this...Paine creates his trees and mushrooms with the idea that he is controlling the way nature grows. By placing the mushrooms where he wants on the floor he is controlling them, but to the viewer they seem to have just sprouted out of no where.

    -Diana Babson

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this artist! The past few years I have found myself letting nature be the subject of my art projects, more specifically the idea of chaotic untouched nature being most beautiful. I plan on doing further research on this artist!
    -Courtney Rodrigues