The Strange Beauty of Landscape Painting In the Industrial Age

What kind of work would the legendary landscape painters of the 19th century be making if they were alive today? Look no further than the painter Philip Govedare, who depicts 21st century landscapes transformed by mining, dredging, and human civilization in general.

The Seattle-based Govedare's work is an uncanny mix of fact and fiction: He doesn't work directly from photographs, but many of his paintings look as though they were done from the open door of a plan hovering over the Earth. They're painted in dreamlike tones, criss-crossed by precisely-formed roads, vapor trails, the sheer edges of pit mines—as though they were the fever dream of a civil engineer.

The Strange Beauty of Landscape Painting In the Industrial Age

Sands 52 X 41 oil on canvas 2013. Image copyright Philip Govedare.

In a painting called Sands, Govedare depicts Canada's tar sands, as he explains in a recent interview:

I had been looking at those images of tar sands. And I thought, "I can envision this. I know what this looks like." And I started just pushing paint across the painting like a bulldozer and reconfiguring the land, and using these kind of earthy, bloody colors, plowing through, and that's what came out of that. I would say (that painting) is really one of the landscapes that has been more radically reconfigured. For me that is a terrifying place.

It's fascinating work—critic Sarah Luria calls it the "toxic sublime," which is a good way to explain the terrible beauty of these paintings. Check out a few of the pieces below, or head over to Govedare's website for more. [Heather James Gallery; Philip Govedare]

The Strange Beauty of Landscape Painting In the Industrial Age

Black Lake 50 X 82 oil on canvas 2011.

The Strange Beauty of Landscape Painting In the Industrial Age

City #2 36 X 72 oil on canvas 2013. Lead image: Excavation #7 48 X 80 oil on canvas 2013. All images courtesy of Philip Govedare.