Eric Beltz’s exhibition The Good Land draws an amorphous connection between the aggressive policies of America’s colonial leaders and our nation’s disregard of nature’s inherent healing powers. His meticulous graphite drawings present recurring imagery pertaining to American history and culture, including the founding fathers, a turkey, and an eagle. This iconography is subtly underscored by meticulous depictions of remedial vegetation, as well as historically charged shrubs.
In Tree of the Evil Eagle (2008) Beltz successfully combines these differing sources of imagery as he references a legend fabricated by George Washington’s biographer. As the story goes, the first president cut down his father’s beloved cherry tree in his youth, and took full responsibility for the action. In the drawing, a voluminous tree hovers above ground as a reminder to childhood guilt, while Washington prays for direction at Valley Forge. Rather than portraying a cherry tree, Beltz illustrates a Brugmansia shrub, which is also referred to as the Tree of the Evil Eagle amongst healers. Coming full circle, the American emblem of the eagle appears perched atop the tree, menacingly eyeing Washington.
Although the figures in Beltz’s drawings are typically depicted in desperate conditions, they each appear to have a chance at redemption. This is usually introduced via the streams of associative text derived from the Bible, and Tibetan and Egyptian Books of the Dead. Yet these quotes function more as mood-setters than illuminations, as they have been taken out of context and consequently lost their original meaning.
In a group of four drawings, Asthma, Cancer, Delirium and Hysteria, (titled after lists in Jethro Kloss’ book Back to Eden, 1939), Beltz depicts a headless anonymous farmer. In each drawing, the man lays in a pile of wooden logs from which different medicinal plants sprout and prosper. This series embodies Beltz’s recognition of the discrepancy between human violence and the ultimate opportunity nature presents for regeneration and hope. Despite the optimistic undertone, Beltz’s imagery remains dark and condemning in its essence, ultimately pointing to the human disconnect from nature and our inevitable morbid destiny.
Images: Tree of the Evil Eagle (2008); Hysteria (2008). Courtesy Morgan Lehman Gallery.