Daily Art Moment: Buzzy Sullivan

North Fork Toutle River through smoke from the Diamond Creek wildfire, approximately six miles northwest of Mount St. Helens, Buzzy Sullivan, 25 ½ x 31 ½ inches, archival pigment print. A photograph taken at great height looking down on a landscape that is brown and dry with pockets of green vegetation and hazy with smoke. A dry, horizontal riverbed is seen beginning at the middle of the photo traveling left to the edge of the print. It cuts down and back towards the center and ends at bottom center divided into a fork. The riverbed reveals layers of eroded earth giving a terraced and jagged appearance. The surrounding landscape is mostly cocoa browns, with lighter shades of tan and rusty reddish tones. There are clusters of dark brownish-green trees and shrubs near the river’s banks. Lone trees and brush dot the scene as well. In the upper third of the print, sloping cliff faces and low lying mounded hills stretch to the top of the print. These appear hazier further in the distance. The upper right corner suggests the heaviest area of smoke with the distant mountains appearing through a thick haze of beige smoke. The foreground, at the bottom of the print, shows the depth of the forked riverbed in deep shadow with no discernible water flowing. A large, dark fissure juts off to the lower right.

Our thoughts are with the one-tenth of Oregon’s population displaced and affected by wildfires.

“The smoke and strange light currently blanketing the landscape brought to mind this photograph on view in our exhibition Volcano! Mount St. Helens in Art. It shows nature rebounding in the Toutle River Valley thirty-seven years after the area was scoured by the eruption on May 18, 1980. We view the scene through smoke from the 2017 Diamond Creek Fire, which was started by careless campers far away in north central Washington.

The photograph comes from a large body of works that Buzzy Sullivan is creating of Mount St. Helens and the surrounding area. Buzzy is part mountain goat and doesn’t mind hauling his equipment to distant viewpoints, but this photograph was made from a spot near the Johnston Ridge Observatory, so the view is well known to many of you. I thought it was an important photograph to display near the end of the exhibition because it reveals the severity of human impact on the environment. Between 2000 and 2017, 84% of wildland fires in the United States were caused by human activity.

People often assume that photography better translates into an online image than a painting, but that is not the case. Photographers go to great pains in printing their works, and the subtlety of color and tone is far more profound when viewing the print itself. For those of you who are able to visit the Museum, this work is on view through January 3, 2021; everyone can explore Volcano! online.

Dawson W. Carr, The Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art

Buzzy Sullivan (American, born 1979). North Fork Toutle River through smoke from the Diamond Creek wildfire, approximately six miles northwest of Mount St. Helens, 2017. Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist, L2019.107.3

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