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Traditionally, landscape painting has served as a celebration of the natural world. Contemporary landscape painters have had the opportunity and challenge of exploring how industrial spaces interact with their surrounding environments. Visually, the industrial and the pastoral are at odds with one another, yet they frequently exist side-by-side. For this series of paintings, I have focused on working around the Wood River Refinery Complex in Wood River, Illinois.
As a little girl, I remember being mesmerized by the jungle of smokestacks, pressing my face to the car window as my family drove by on Route 255. My father would tell me stories about how he and his siblings roamed the streets of Wood River growing up. His father, my grandfather, worked as an electrical technician at the refinery during the 1970s. Back then, there were multiple refineries in the area, and the children would chant slogans like “Shell has a good smell, Standard stinks!” depending on where their fathers happened to work. Though I grew up in Collinsville IL, south of Roxana and the refinery, I still feel as though I have some small connection to this site, if only by my family’s history there. Even now, living in here in Edwardsville, I can see a tuft of smoke rising above the tree line, a small reminder of the refinery.
The Wood River Refinery provides a wealth of juxtapositions. During the day the complex looks harsh, yet at night it becomes a fairy-land of light and colors. The town of South Roxana butts up against the refinery’s property. A network of quiet streets and houses surround the complex. It is a strange sight to see smoke stacks tower above what would otherwise be a normal suburban street. Being an industrial facility, the refinery produces pollution. It also produces a number of jobs, as well as refining upwards of 300,000 barrels of crude oil a day, a necessity in America’s car-oriented commuter culture.
Using contradictory materials and methods of rendering to create these paintings seemed to be the most effective way to convey the site’s multi-faceted nature. In this series of paintings, I set about exploring and photographing the refinery’s perimeters. These photographs became the base layer of the paintings, the two visual languages playing off one another. The scale of the paintings references the format of postcards, another well-known document of the picturesque.