Thursday, January 30, 2014

Amazon (243)

Amazon (243), oil on canvas, 24 x 24 in. For sale on Etsy.
When I decided to make a painting about the Amazon River and rainforest, I knew that it would be hard to narrow things down to just a few iconic people, animals and objects. So instead, I deliberately tried to fit in as many things as I could, which resulted in this collage/mural-like scene. I wanted to convey a sense of information overload. I hoped to show the well-known abundance and diversity of the Amazon in a new and unexpected way.

As usual, I found most of my image sources on the internet. I knew that direct searches for "amazon" would probably be foiled by omnipresent page results. Then I had an idea. I realized that I already happened to know the names of a couple of major tributaries of the Amazon. I knew Xingu because of the black beer with that name that I drank a few years ago at Goose the Market in Indianapolis. I've known Putumayo because of those world music CDs often seen at gift shops. After a bit of searching, I found a perfect short list of major tributaries in the form of the track list on the 1999 album Aguas da Amazonia by Uakti and Philip Glass. I listened to the album repeatedly as I worked. Each track is named for one tributary, in addition to an imaginary river name on the first track and the Amazon itself on the final track. This yielded seven tributary rivers, to which I added Putumayo for a total of eight. Each river is represented by an element of my painting, as follows:

The Munduruku girl with the night monkey on her head in the foreground represents the Tapajós River.

Japurá River is represented by the squirrel monkey and the Purus River by the Purus red howler monkey, both in the upper right.

The Rio Negro is highlighted in the rough map of the Amazon that sprawls across the top of the painting. The other tributaries are also labeled.

The man holding photos on the left represents the Madeira River. (He's protesting dam building on the Madeira.) The cartoon girl lying on the ground is based on a figure from the cover of a Putumayo music album.

The geometric patterns on the left side of the painting are based on basketry and skin painting by Indians living on the Paru and the Xingu.

My biggest source of information while working on this painting was the excellent book Tree of Rivers by John Hemming. The story of the Amazon turns out to be even more heartbreaking and fascinating than I originally thought. I hope that my painting will inspire others to learn about and fully appreciate the incredible Amazon region.

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