Why Weeds?

Two artists have influenced the use of plants in my work. The first, Mel Chin, whom I read about in, Art At The Edge And Over, by Linda Weintraub, had an interesting problem. He was seeking to reclaim a portion of land from contamination using alternative processes and sought funding from the EPA. The EPA turned him down, so he sought funding from the NEA, who agreed. Which goes to show that Art is defined by its funding.

Detail of "Weed Choked Garden" by Roxy Paine.
Detail of “Weed Choked Garden” by Roxy Paine.

The second influence, and more directly so, is Roxy Paine, who, in 2002, had a show at The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. The show included work from his “replicant” series — realistic representations of gardens in various states of neglect.

What I found intriguing in both pieces was the use of nature, of growing things, as a part of a piece. True, I don’t think that is what Chin’s or Paine’s work is about, but that is what I took from them.

On the other hand, why they influenced me, I haven’t a clue. A preponderance of earth signs, maybe. But somehow my mind turned to Meaning and Apocalypse – you know, the age old idea of man’s monuments to himself becoming obscured by nature. (See also Ruins, Ravages, & Ceremonies.)

Original Drawing
Original Drawing

So I sketched a planter containing a sculpture and plants. I digitized the sketch and added some details.

That was the beginning of the Planters Project. 


The first planter was red and plastic and resembled the capital of an Ionic column. Though the planter in my sketch is different, it was important to simply begin as quickly as possible to see what would happen. Pure lab work.

Red Planter, October '09
Red Planter, October ’09

To me, nature isn’t about buying plants from the nursery, so in March 09, I took my shovel and buckets to a few uncultivated sites and brought home “wild” dirt. I dumped it into the planter with some sculptural element adorning it like candles on a cake.

What poured out of the dirt over the next several months amazed me. Not just growth of X, but growth and death of X, then the growth of Y taking its place. What began as the pursuit of one idea – to see how the weeds would obscure our monuments – became how the landscape within the planter itself changed – and changed dramatically – throughout the season. If one of the main aspects of Art is to abstract from Life details that draw attention to things often overlooked, then the changing nature of Nature is the real subject here.

However, when I began doing the write-up of the first season (which I still haven’t finished), I realized I did not know the names of any of the weeds except the dandelion. That wasn’t right. I mean morally. So since 2009, I’ve been on an obsessive pursuit of identifying every weed I see.

Then along the way, God, or someone that looked a lot like Him, suggested I draw and paint them. And that’s why WEEDS.