Portland painter Hickory Mertsching has a penchant for life, death and nature: both wild and man-made. His still lifes, done in oil, showcase a confluence of symbolism with many conflicting elements. Throughout his work, one sees a running commentary of environmental negligence, and human impact through littering and deforestation. Animals juxtaposed with crushed beer cans and chainsaws showcase not only the symbolic reference of destruction but also the aesthetics of defacing the environment through litter and clear-cutting. The animals interact, oblivious to the objects, as in real life: nature cannot defend itself nor comment on our treatment of it.
It is hard to view Mertsching’s paintings without feeling a paroxysm of guilt toward existing and participating in a time of such extreme usability; within a culture that bulldozes through natural resources, sidelines scientific research in the name of profit and economic interests, everyone meets a moment where they have to wonder just how bad their impact is on the world and what they could be doing differently.
Even so, Mertsching’s paintings focus on a larger set of paradoxes than just that. There is the implied confusion within viewing the animals, of which it is uncertain whether they are alive or dead. Many of the landscapes, some on fire and under immediate threat, are not fully realized and hover curiously within the white, negative space of the canvas. The direct confrontation between life force and waste, is beautifully arranged and painted in such a light that the garbage gains an antique presence, a glowing look, one that only highlights the ridiculousness of how we treat our environment.
Mertsching’s words on his own work:
“My paintings are about illustrating and presenting unavoidable natural realities by utilizing mundane objects as symbols. The realities constantly challenge our existence and are powerful enough to be beyond our control, always offering more to wonder and question. Such as the rise and fall of a garden in the span of summer it offers sustenance but requires toil for any reward of consumption. Within this cycle all allegorical manners of life occur, crossing paths, pursuits of enlightenment, conflicts of survival, and the passing of time.”