JUSTIN MCALLISTER’S WORK DEPICTS LANDSCAPES IN A NEW LIGHT—a flickering and almost threatening light that burns alongside classic elements of the Hudson River School. Yes, he captures the rich sunsets and lush greens of northeastern Pennsylvania, but the conceptual landscape portrayed by McAllister rises above plein air painting and realizes the sublime. While typical landscapes turn their subject into the subjected—a representation of the hierarchical tradition of man over territory—McAllister transforms the landscape into a dominant force, exposing the temporal, fleeting nature of experience.
McAllister’s work tells a contemporary narrative through the language of classic nineteenth century American landscapes. Drawing inspiration from modern disaster movies, the artist employs fire to illustrate nature’s impending climax. Often shown engulfing the discarded remnants of our civilization, the use of fire is an exhilarating experience, and McAllister conveys this danger with acumen. It adds a blaring sense of intensity, overpowering the would-be-nostalgia of the majestic landscapes. There is an awe to the work, but it is different than that of the early American paintings; It is a critical re-examination of the period, and forgoes nostalgia for a much more base regret—the simple life-flashing-before-eyes feeling of a man facing a post apocalyptic world. The artist is, in every sense of the phrase, playing with fire.
Fire has long held an important place in communication. The beacons that warned of oncoming enemies and the campfires that fueled storytellers all come to mind when looking at McAllister’s work. It’s this use of an increasingly archaic form of technology that suggests a cultural failure on a grand scale—the world in a state of turmoil, humanity admitting surrender. But the fire can also be seen as an act of defiance, as man standing up to defeat. This combination of triumph and defeat has become McAllister’s signature.
Much like Justin McAllister draws from modern and classic sources, he works in modern and classic media. He works digitally, compiling images from multiple sources, before painting in a finely rendered style. The result is both epic and palpable.