In the mid-19th century, a group of New York City landscape painters launched the first true American art movement. The artists of the Hudson River School, as they came to be known, were infused with Romantic notions about the sublimity of nature. Their rapturous, plein-air paintings of the "wilderness" to the north of the city came to symbolize American independence and vitality.
In his 2005 series Interstate Sublime, Southern California painter Timothy Tompkins re-examines the notion of landscape art associated with the Hudson River School. Beginning from a series of photographs he captured on road trips, Tompkins digitally altered the images by simplifying the colors and blurring the contours. The modified photos were then projected onto a sheet of aluminum, onto which he painted using high-gloss commercial enamel.
What resulted are pixelated paintings of state freeways cutting through the California landscape. Seen from the perspective of a driver on the road, the images place the viewer within the action, a sharp contrast to the Romantic idea of passive observer in the face of the sublime:
With the point of view as that of the driver the viewer becomes a participant and conspirator within the landscape, in contrast to the 19th century ideal of simple observer of the landscape. In the past the emphasis was on the awe-inspiring and untamed beauty of nature. Now that same nature has been tamed and the landscape can be perceived as an inconvenience and something to be passed through as quickly as possible.
The Interstate Sublime paintings were exhibited as part of Manifest Destiny, Tompkins' 2005 solo show at DCKT Contemporary.