The stories behind the incredible work of artist Micah Ganske.
I met artist Micah Ganske for the first time, late last year, at a Starbucks in Hawai‘i Kai. Ganske, born and raised in Hawai‘i and currently based in New York, was visiting Oahu for a brief period of time and, busy though he was, agreed to sit down with me to discuss his latest painting, “Greenpoint, NY.”
“It’s kind of a big departure for me,” Ganske confessed. “I don’t know if you had a chance to look at my website…”
I had. Ganske’s stain-based paintings were, and still are, unlike any I had seen before. His idiosyncratic technique – applying ultra-thin, watered-down acrylic paint on muslin, a material often used for clothing or upholstery – yields faces that glow, as if decanting light, and vibrant landscapes that pulsate with activity, their colors radioactive.
His trippy trompe l’oeil paintings are so infinitely detailed that if you look closely, entire galaxies of detail emerge. Oh, and then there’s the size of these monolithic slabs of muslin: they are gargantuan. “Greenpoint, NY,” when completed, would be 10 by 14 feet.
Ganske sifted through images on his mini laptop in search of the model for Greenpoint. “I’m actually cobbling together these huge panoramas from screen grabs off of Bing maps,” Ganske told me, before he spotted what he was looking for: a sprawling aerial view of Greenpoint with the shadow of a large telescope looming ominously over the Brooklyn neighborhood.
Given my dilettantish understanding of his work, however, I couldn’t discern why this painting represented such a radical development.
“Everything except this new body of work,” Ganske said, “is based on photos that I’ve taken.” A-ha. What was interesting, too, was that many of the photos were taken in Hawai‘i, while Ganske was on vacation. Akaka Falls figures prominently in one of his paintings.
“Greenpoint, NY,” along with the subsequent paintings in his Tomorrowland series, would juxtapose two elements: aerial views of towns that have been recently abandoned due to industrial contamination or environmental catastrophes, and, projected over them, shadows of what would have been considered “aspirational technology” at some point in the ’60s. But wait, reader, I know what you’re thinking: Greenpoint is far from abandoned!
“Oh,” Ganske said, sensing my confusion. “I forgot to tell you why it’s Greenpoint in this painting. It is one of the most polluted places in the country.” (Greenpoint is the exception in the Tomorrowland series; every other town is abandoned.)
Pointing to a portion of the neighborhood on his laptop, Ganske explained that back in the ’50s and ’60s, there was a slow leaking oil spill (the spot used to be the petroleum processing area for the East Coast). “It’s still there, because how do you clean it up? It’s soaked into the Earth, and it’s bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill.” I gazed at the map and absorbed that piece of information.
“So Greenpoint is up here,” Ganske continued, pointing again at the map, “and if you just travel down here, you get to Williamsburg.”
He explained that when a new building goes up in this area, they’re forced to put a prophylactic-like covering over the foundation to prevent toxic fumes from traveling upward. “And these are like huge, luxury apartment buildings, million-dollar one-bedrooms,” Ganske said, incredulously. “It’s crazy!”
There was, I discovered, another reason why these neighborhoods were targeted in Ganske’s latest painting. The artist spoke of another kind of disaster, one less environmental than cultural, in the area. “As someone who lives in Queens, it’s a little jab at Brooklyn,” he said. “As someone who’s completely fed up with the scenesterness of the art world, it’s my jab at the worst offending neighborhood.”
The Full Picture
The other side of “Greenpoint, NY” – the shadows of “aspirational technology” – would be the Parks Radio Telescope, in New South Wales. (It was where the historic Apollo 11 television broadcast was first received from space.) “I’m a huge NASA nerd,” Ganske confessed, “and I got really into the ’60s space programs and the race to the moon.” The optimism at the time was warranted. “Once America started to become the superpower that it is, it’s like, ‘Science is gonna fix everything! Once we get to 2010, nothing is going to be wrong with anything!’” The telescope pointed towards the perceived reality of the future; Greenpoint illustrated the reality of the future.
I thanked Ganske for his time. Months later, I popped onto Ganske’s website. There, on the front page, was a video for “Greenpoint, NY.” There are many things to say about the making of this painting, but I can’t think of anything better than this: prepare to be wowed.