Now comes Jedediah Purdy, with excerpts from a 2015 interview that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly following the publication of After Nature, in which Purdy traces the history of the American environmental imagination, and the ways in which projected meanings and “lessons” of nature have been used to justify its exploitation. Purdy suggests that if we are to change our relationship to the living world during this time of the Sixth Extinction, we will need to radically change our understanding of what it means to be human.
Images are from a 2011 Walton Ford exhibition, I Don’t Like To Look At Him Jack. It Makes Me Think of That Awful Day On The Island.
As for the Walton Ford exhibition at Paul Yasmin Gallery dating from 2011, we find the following notes:
The first series, presenting three huge portraits of King Kong, is based on the 1933 movie co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. As Ford explains, “The depression era Kong was misshapen, not modeled on any living ape. He has an odd, ugly, shifting charisma like Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, or Bogart. Naturally, his woman screamed in terror. She continued screaming throughout their time together. The grief of the original Kong is the grief of the unloved, and like Humbert Humbert or Frankenstein, the grief of the unlovable. In 1933, Fay Wray says words that would break any suitor’s heart. She shrinks from the chained Kong and tells her human lover, ‘I don’t like to look at him…’ Since Kong is a Hollywood tough guy, he covers up his heartbreak with violence and anger. These paintings are about Kong’s heartbreak. I wanted to reveal the monster’s grief, his enormous sadness, the sorrow that the original Kong kept hidden from view.”
Ford’s second series, which depicts a monkey capturing and strangling a parrot, was inspired by an unsettling passage from Audobon’s memoirs. Describing a childhood memory, Audobon writes: “…My mother had several beautiful parrots and some monkeys; one of the latter was a full-grown male of a very large species. One morning, while the servants were engaged in arranging the room I was in, ‘Pretty Polly’ was asking for her breakfast as usual, ‘Du pain au lait pour le perroquet Mignonne,’ the man of the woods probably thought the bird presuming upon his rights in the scale of nature; be this as it may, he certainly showed his supremacy in strength over the denizen of the air, for, walking deliberately and uprightly toward the poor bird, he at once killed it, with unnatural composure. The sensations of my infant heart at this cruel sight were agony to me. I prayed the servant to beat the monkey, but he, who for some reason preferred the monkey to the parrot, refused. I uttered long and piercing cries, my mother rushed into the room, I was tranquillized, the monkey was forever afterward chained, and Mignonne buried with all the pomp of a cherished lost one. This made, as I have said, a very deep impression on my youthful mind.”