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Compensation for a Permanent Loss // The history of the settlement of North America has been the impetus for most of my work the past 20 years. Like most compelling stories, this one is rich in encounters with exotic cultures, mysterious landscapes and disharmony. The transformation of the landscape from wilderness to domesticated environment is the primary legacy of the North American narrative. The displacement of indigenous life in favor of cities, agriculture, mining and logging was considered an essential component to a growing new country, but the consequences have been costly. The loss of native habitat has devastated many species of plants and animals.

The scenes in my recent paintings for the exhibition titled Compensation for a Permanent Loss depict mysterious vignettes of disharmony and hope in an intimate forest setting. The coexistence of discordant feelings is reminiscent of Melville’s Moby Dick, a story in which the character Ahab describes feeling pain in his non-existent leg:

Yes, I have heard something curious on that score, sir; how a dismasted man never entirely loses the feeling of his old spar, but it will still be pricking him at times. May I humbly ask if it really be so sir?   Like the lingering sensation of Ahab’s severed leg, there is a kind of irrational hope that is represented by pain when one considers the permanence of extinction.  

Like a prosthetic device, these paintings are a reminder of the unsatisfactory substitutes that we are left with when we lose native birds like the Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet or the Labrador Duck.  

Most people agree that extinction is a tragic consequence of progress in this country. I trust that the viewer of my paintings and I will start from that point of view. The little vignettes that I present aspire to be subtle, engaging and even a little humorous. They are an imaginative and perhaps irrational effort to propose the re-introduction of native elements to our environment. – Dan Bruggeman, 2008.

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