b. 1972 , Chapel Hill , NC
Wardwell’s paintings integrate landscape, text, musical allusions, and abstraction to investigate myths about nature and national identity in the United States. Having grown up in predominately rural areas in the west, the artist’s commitment to landscape is both personal and political. This commitment merges with his interest in the distinctly American art movement of the Hudson River School. Wardwell is immersed in the history of landscape painting in the United States and aims to bring our attention to how our relationship to landscape is historically linked to the defining of a national identity. From Emerson and Thoreau, to the early advocates of Manifest Destiny, to contemporary advertising – landscape and the American brand go hand in hand.
The landscape images that Wardwell uses inevitably allude to an end or irrevocable change in nature as we know it. It is impossible to see an image of a glacier today and only think of its beauty or sublimity. In our new century, this imagery implies an almost certain demise and the havoc caused by our heavy footprints. Where once images of glacier covered mountains evoked Heaven on earth and paved the way for humanity’s dominance over the wilderness, it has come to pass that such images now signal the tragic consequences of this ideology. It is imperative that the US reshape its national identity in response to environmental depredation.
The text fragments in Wardwell’s work are all lyrics from rock songs taken out of their original context to suggest new meanings. Read through the lens of the US landscape, these lines illustrate an alternative American cultural consciousness. Inserting words into the scenes of nature juxtaposes imagery and text to undermine the previous heroic cultural connotations of American Landscape tradition.