Darren Sears

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I view nature in spatial rather than scenic terms - as maps of linked experiences rather than collections of disjointed landscapes. Finding most natural environments too boundless, disorderly, and difficult to absorb, I struggle to understand and appreciate them without knowing where they end and what lies beyond. Ecological edges and adjacencies rarely seem to be the focus of artists or just about anyone else, but I see them as giving definition and meaning to a landscape, as a frame does to a picture or dark does to light. Inspired by travel and imagination, I organize nature into discrete, comprehensible slices.

Growing up in Ohio and restless for the unfamiliar, I developed an early fascination with exotic plants and landforms. Beginning in my teenage years, I was fortunate to visit many of the places I had been fantasizing about for so long, but in most cases I was strangely dissatisfied – especially when I was unable to grasp the full extents of a given environment. Best measuring up to my expectations were Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands, and Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, with their striking juxtapositions of wet and dry, complex volcanic topography, and oddly scale-less landscapes. Eventually I discovered that I am most drawn to places characterized by dramatically sharp edges and contrasts - small islands, mountain peaks, oases, steep rainfall gradients, tiny cinder cones, wilderness relicts encircled by urban development - especially when those edges are always close at hand, defining downscaled versions of features typically overwhelming in scale or force (like entire continents and massive volcanoes). I wish I could compress and structure these places even further into entities that are fully explorable and “knowable,” giving me an exhilarating sense of control.

Further exploration of my environmental and artistic passions during my college years at Stanford (including study abroad in Madagascar and Peru) confirmed that my interests in ecology and geology, more driven by idealized versions of landscapes than their functional complexities, were more aesthetic than scientific. Believing that a design career would allow me to create these idealized places in the real world, I earned a Master in Landscape Architecture from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and entered private practice. The profession proved to be a good fit in many ways, but he quickly learned that due to the practical requirements of designing usable spaces for actual clients, most of his visions could not be realized out in the real world.

I experimented with digitally cropping and combining travel photographs to create photomontages inventing or accentuating the places that entrance me, fragmented as if multiple perspectives are being compressed into a single view. From there I moved to oil and watercolor working in the same fractured style, using photographic references to varying degrees. These “maps” represent wider and more diverse geographies - and fuller experiences of a place, incorporating memory and anticipation of its multiple facets - than could be captured by any single scene. Considerations of color, texture, or atmosphere in each of the fragments are secondary to the spatial/geographical relationships between them. In another series of pieces, done in mixed media, I depict such diverse locales less abstractly through single aerial views. Responding to my inner landscape architect’s desire to maintain some of the structured character of the fractured compositions, I partially overlay watercolor paintings with 2D or 3D topographical representations in plexiglass, or literally incorporate structures - such as boardwalks, shelters, and eco-lodges - into the paintings.

I see these places as wild and rugged on one hand, and delicate and vulnerable on the other: they maximize my feeling of omniscience in allowing me to tame that which seems un-tameable. They are fictional to varying degrees, but in the face of climate change, invasive species and habitat destruction - particularly devastating to the sensitive ecosystems and ecological zonation patterns of island and mountain environments - they express my distress at the fragility of the real places that inspire them. My yearning to feel a greater sense of control over these places has come to include a strong protective impulse.

For the past two years I have been taking a break from landscape architecture to focus primarily on my artwork, in addition to planning a 2019 conference in the Galapagos Islands exploring the connections between sustainable development and evolution. I am represented by Hang Art gallery, and have exhibited in solo and group shows locally and nationally. In 2017 I participated in month-long artist residencies in Iceland and Tasmania.