Now what we call “bourgeois”…is nothing else than the search for a balance. It is the striving after a mean between the countless extremes and opposites that arise in human conduct.— Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf
Throughout my life I’ve had an ongoing fascination with the history and the mythology of the American West. I’ve been especially intrigued with the idea of the Western frontier, and how, at least for nineteenth-century settlers, it served to demarcate what lay to both sides: wildness and mystery in one direction, civilization and comfort in the other. As an artist, I think of this dichotomy not just as a characteristic of the frontier, but as opposing poles of the human condition and of human longing.
At the same time, I’ve been interested in how the legacy of the West has influenced the development of American society in the latter twentieth century. As a child growing up in suburban central Florida—both pre- and post-Disney—I witnessed a kind of “settling” of that region through the growth of commerce and the destruction of natural habitats.
In revisiting my youth, I’ve come to think of the suburban environment as “east of the frontier,” and emblematic of American complacency, conformity, and consumerism. But in taming the wildness of the American continent, did we create a new kind of wilderness, fraught with its own perils and idealized through its own mythos?
The mythology of my suburban youth is low-slung ranch homes, Slow: Children at Play, a choir of mowers on Saturday mornings, shopping malls, and station wagons; it is freshly-baked cookies, cowboys and Indians, football in the street, Super 8 movies, consumption and obsolescence. Sundays are for Jesus, families are functional and homes unbroken, schools are good and food is bad. New construction is unquestionably great. My suburbia is found on Sesame Street, in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, in the Magic Kingdom…“and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?” The reality lies somewhere between the myth and forgetting.