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Reimagining the Sublime with Amory Abbott

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

by Megan Daly

For Issue #4, Farewell Earth, we are featuring Go Be Forgotten by artist Amory Abbott. A series of mountainous charcoal landscapes, erupting with waterfalls and carved with valleys, these works are mystical and monumental. In their immensity, the subtle tonal details of these works are compelling. Yet these landscapes are threateningly dark; a choice Abbott makes to evoke fear in the viewer. With his practice, Abbott reimagines the Sublime landscape in the Anthropocene.

"I decided I would set a trap for viewers: creating paintings that looked majestic, wondrous, and compelling - and then reveal it as overwhelmingly unappealing to travel to, where the land is quaking and splitting and reforming… a place that the viewer could not survive."

Simply put, the sublime can be defined as the feeling of being overwhelmed in the face of greatness. For the 19th century Romantics, the sublime was found in the untamed power of nature; painting epic scenes of wild storms, blasts of colour forming the land and sky, and civilisation minuscule in comparison, if depicted at all. Intended to put the viewer in awe and terror, the sublime worked to remind us of our insignificance in the face of the divine powers of nature.

When European Romanticism reached America, it provided a different way of seeing the dangerous wilderness of the New World. This idea of divinity supported the belief that the land was God-given, reinforced Manifest Destiny, and encouraged further settlement into the native land of indigenous peoples.

The paintings of the likes of the Hudson River School served to show the limitless resources America had to offer, and the natural beauty became a nationalistic emblem of America's size, strength, and potential. Romanticism left a defining legacy on Western ideas of the natural world.

Abbott investigates this dense past of the sublime landscape, asking himself: how can I make landscape paintings that confront this history? At first glance, Abbott's work appears to depict the sublime as the Romantics did, and in many ways, he shares the same intention. But in 2019, we experience the terror of facing the power of nature almost daily. For the ecologically minded, this fear is prompted when we pay 5p for a plastic bag, or read in the paper about how insect numbers are plummeting into extinction. In the current ecological state, this reminder of our insignificance is more crucial than ever.

To contrast what he calls the 'colour-orgies' of historic sublime paintings, and inspired by the theory of dark ecology, darkness is central to Abbott's work. Darkness is a metaphor for grieving, the unknown, of fear: and depicts the 'shadow cast by industry and conquest'. Abbott shows us the dark, mysterious powers of the earth, celebrating that the end of human life will not be the end of the world. We may be saying farewell to Earth, but there is hope beyond humanity.


Amory Abbott is an artist and teacher based in Vancouver.

To see more of Amory's work or to contact him, visit:


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