Petit Disasters

I’ve never been the victim of a natural disaster, never lost a family member or friend to a cyclone or avalanche, never lost property to a flood or earthquake. My cousin lost his house to a tornado while his family crouched under the basement stairs. Once a hurricane swept up the Atlantic coast and inland winds uprooted a large tree in our yard in New Jersey. I’ve experienced ice storms that left us without heat and electricity for days at a time, and lightning storms so intense that you wonder at the power of nature and easily imagine dying without any more chance of survival than the ant you unthinkingly crushed underfoot earlier in the day.

The Petit Disaster Series are tiny paintings of momentous events that have taken place around the world during the 20th Century. On first glance the paintings appear to be charming land- and seascapes, but closer examination reveals threatening clouds, a tornado, oversize waves and waterspouts, and the volcanic dust-covered ruins of a small town. It is upon reading the title that you discover that only two of the inhabitants of this unfortunate town were able to escape the noxious fumes, while nearly all the inhabitants of an island in Iceland, threatened by a volcanic eruption, were evacuated before disaster struck. Natural disasters are just that, and while devastating and frightening, are probably not the work of an angry and avenging god, as was believed for centuries and is still thought to be true by those with an apocalyptic view of the world. What appears to be an increase in number and intensity of natural disasters of late may well prove to be a result of man’s abuse of the environment. The passage of time will tell whether this scientific view of recent horrific events is true or another side of the apocalyptic coin.

We know that natural disasters occur all over the world with deadly results, that some are the consequence of geologic conditions and others of weather events, that some are the outgrowth of man’s mismanagement of the environment, that they may or may not be predicted, and that they have always occurred and will continue to occur, forever and without end. And we will continue to be afraid, fascinated, defiant and in awe of a force that we can never control.

Exhibited in "Petit Disasters" at Rebecca Ibel Gallery, 2006


Waterspout off Gerona, Spain, 1965
(collapsed on pier, killing 6)
oil on canvas
4 x 4 inches

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