Noah’s Sailboat

 

With “Noah’s Sailboat”, I am returning to themes related to my first series of graphite drawings Noah’s Woodlot.

In 2005 Santa Barbara experienced flooding from heavy, persistent rains. There was a mud slide in a tiny coastal town nestled between steep cliffs and the ocean known as La Conchita that buried a family in their home. A friend who lived in Ventura was commuting on the 101 north the morning of the slide. As she approached this stretch of freeway, traffic stopped. There was a rushing sound and a slurry of mud swamped the road. She was pulled from her car as it was swept off the freeway careening into a ditch. A bus traveling south took stranded commuters back to Ventura but was cut off by an overflowing river surging over the freeway into the Pacific. On a smaller scale but closer to home, my street was flooded by an overflowing creek clogged from years of plant growth. Water gushed over the nearby intersection which was also a bridge over Mission Creek. After this week of rains, we were cut off from the south. Workers reached Santa Barbara by boat or the long drive around the Los Padres National Forest to enter from the north.

The areas throughout Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Isla Vista where I had been drawing plants (freeway shoulders, drainage ditches, alleys, parking lots and other waste spaces) after the storms had few plants remaining. These spaces were scarred, scattered with debris, and filled with logs left by CalTrans after breaking down uprooted trees. This, along with the social chaos created by the natural disaster, inspired the meditative Noah’s Woodlot series. Uprooted trees and sawn logs became poetic leftovers of one man’s efforts to rescue the animal kingdom from the wrath of God. These were simple, exploratory drawings but I had always intended to return to them.

In the years since the La Conchita slide, I have worked on several other series. In this same time, however, the foothills and mountains surrounding Santa Barbara have burned. Several fires scorched the landscape from Goleta (The Good Land) to Montecito and over the hills into the Santa Ynez Valley. Most of these fires came from human acts (mower sparks, arson, and the embers from an illegal campfire that were reignited by sun-downer winds). Hundreds of homes were destroyed and two people were burned severely having to jump through flames to get to their car. A large, seemingly immobile mushroom cloud loomed over the ridge behind the city as the valley burned. The city was blanketed with white ash for months and as the winds came and went, the ash remaining in the hills was carried back to the city. But at the end of this cycle of fire, the rains returned and I returned to Noah.

“Noah’s Sailboat” is a first-step towards a large-scale ark drawing. I also thought the idea of a sailboat was a funny scale-down of the expected ark. The composition is a reference to a type of drawing that a child might have made of a boat with a triangle sail, wave lines, and a radiant sun. I also wanted the drawing to be of a static object that had the visual feeling of movement. I like to play with the ways in which action is re-presented as static image which is part of the reason why most figures in my drawings are shown frozen as if in trance. The undulating, snowy hills are to give the feeling of rising and falling water, the branches mimic wind and splashing water, and the vultures are to be seen as if trailing behind a sailing boat.

This drawing also figures Noah to be a lunatic who hears the voice of God, “Behold the end of all flesh has come for the earth is filled with violence and I will destroy them” (edited version of Genesis 6:13) but in acting upon this it turns out that he has misunderstood the message. He mistakes the voice in his head for his own voice and becomes mad with delusions. Instead of a gatherer, Noah is a hoarder. His collection is his trophies and his boat is a topiary nightmare. I want to imply ecological disaster in the snowy scene (perhaps an ice age instead of a flood) but also natural cycles (it might just be winter). I want to refer to but confuse the source myth and draw out ways of looking at how interactions with nature become encoded in story and symbol.

 

E.A.B. 11/21/10