Ode to Nebraska, oil on canvas, 48x60in.
by Emily Adams (MFA 2011)
It’s the end of the semester and we’re seeing our MFA Thesis projects through to completion. To close up the posts on my thesis process throughout second year here at the Academy, I thought I’d share several of my most recent paintings, along with some interesting work that has been brought to my attention over the course of the past couple months. Exploring American farmland, aerial view, has been like picking up a rock to discover a whole other world underneath. With one of the simplest of subjects—the grid—I’ve found all kinds of problems to try to solve over the months. A straight grid speaks to an entirely different history of painting than one shifted into perspective, color and atmosphere follow different sets of rules when investigated from 30,000 feet in the air, and the surface of the painting itself has become a more significant subject when the image is so pared down. Most importantly to me, the grid as farmland, too, lends additional elements of narrative and symbolic suggestion that only representational painting can bring. Who would have thought soybeans and corn could offer so many aesthetic possibilities?

Crops (Night Raid), oil and alkyd on panel, 18x36in.
Ode to Kansas, oil and alkyd on canvas, 48x60in.

Carpet design by Florian Pucher
In the past couple of months, friends have sent along various sightings of crops popping up in several corners of art and design worlds. I wasn’t really looking to be in dialogue with a carpet designer, but this just confirms my suspicion that the grid is slowly making its way into our visual culture as a new, dominating form of landscape.

Also, if anyone can help me, I am still trying to track down the artist who made this piece spotted hanging at a gallery on 23rd St.

William Steiger's Aerial Survey #2 at Margaret Thatcher Projects
[Identified- Thanks to John Jacobsmeyer]
As I look forward to developing my own work after graduation, I’ll be thinking a lot more about the concept of 'cultivation' particularly in the context of the early American botanical and cultural history that I am related to. Culture, the word itself, has its Latin roots in tilling and agriculture, so exploring the 'cultivation' of a society in a new landscape by juxtaposing variations in the traditions of landscape and flower painting (considering flowers moved with people across seas to be hybridized and seeded in so-called 'virgin' soil) seems to me a good place to dig for now. Here are a couple of interesting grandparents of the melded genres:

Giovanni DiPaolo, St. John the Baptist Goes
Into the Wilderness,
tempera on poplar, 1454
Jacques Le Moyne De Morgues,
Young Daughter of the Picts, circa 1585


  1. I'm fascinated by the image of the Daughter of the Picts. Apparently, she represents the "primitive" nature of the early Scots (Celtic) but is actually a Virginia native (Cherokee?), illustrated to teach the "modern" Scots that they were once as "primitive" as the people they encountered in the new world. Yet her tattoos are very sophisticated, modern and beautiful. The flowers appear to be anything but wild. I'd love to know more about this early joining of human and landscape in art.

  2. I came across the image in a book on flowers in American art and history (Reflections of Nature: Flowers in American Art by Ella Foshay). It is an image made by a French plant draftsman who spent a year in Florida on an early (1564) Huguenot expedition. According to this author’s account, de Morgues made the image twenty years after the voyage and it was used in a book on America “to show that British ancestors were once as savage as the Indians of Virginia,” as you said.
    It seems like an early claim to the myth of the ‘noble savage’ that permeates a lot of the dialogue around colonial expansion, and is much more prevalent in the romantic primitivism of the 18th and 19th century. And to add to that, the flowers imprinted on her body include American varieties recently introduced into Europe from expeditions to the ‘new world’. It really is a complex image. I’m reading now about artists who accompanied Dutch expeditions to Brazil. It seems that for European colonialists, there was a constant tendency to find what they saw as clues hidden in the nature of these new places to prove, justify, or rationalize a God-given destiny and right to ownership. I know less about the history behind the daughter of the Pict herself, but I’ll look into it. If you find out anything more, please share! Thanks for asking!

  3. Emily a good book that you might be interested in reading is 'Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture'. By John Ikerd. He talks a bit about the word agriculture itself, that farming was an actual culture, a spiritual practice, now completely desacrilized by a few large corporations. The word agriculture is being replaced by agribusiness now, because the former just doesnt apply anymore. the book is fascinating thoug, and overall really hopeful.
    Thank you for writing such an awesome post. your paintings are so beautiful and poignant.

  4. Cara's point about agriculture/business really hit home for me. We have some friends, who desired so much to be closer to their food sources, that they - in mid-life - switched their career tracks to learn organic slow-food farming.

    I fantasize about having an orchard (nb. like a certain cider-maker we all know, perhaps?) so that I may participate in the full process of generation... from the seed to the stomach to the earth. This desire is very similar to how I think about creating art too; that spiritual human desire to CREATE is inter-connected to every aspect of our lives, be it having children, being an entrepreneur or making supper.

    Ever read writings by Eric Sloane?

  5. There are so many levels of interpretation to your paintings. I just found this quote, from one translation of the Qu'ran (there are many, translating this line differently): "And if the sky is torn apart to become a rose as in a painting," and this line is specifically linked in contemporary Islamic thought to an image from the Hubble Space Telescope (Cat's Eye Nebula). Given today's news about bin Laden, I can't help but see a very concise statement about the state of the world right now in your work - it has everything: corporate domination and religious strife on one side, beauty and a global perspective of the earth on the other, all contained in a work that probes the aesthetic liminal space between represenation and abstraction. Thank you for creating art that keeps giving every time I come back to it.

  6. it sounds like you're interested in asking the question: how are societies made (cultivated)? What goes into the making of a society? the making of a people, a peoplehood, an identity, a nationhood. and you want to explore such culture-making through paintings of landscapes, both your own work and that of others. you are particularly interested in the concept of a grid, the grid's relationship with agriculture, and maps (aerial views, surveys--both of which have literal and expanded, cultural and social meanings). it seems that you suggest that there is a fundamental connection between the methods and ways of agriculture performed by a society and the identity, culture, and values of the society. this relationship, as you demonstrate here, is portrayed in landscape painting, in images.

    it is fascinating to explore these ideas and study the relations between images and societies. what drives your pursuit? what are the observations you make in your work? what are the values being communicated in your work? what are the variations of the interpretations of the relationship between landscapes, agricultures, and societies that you add to the conversations on canvas?