And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Jeffrey Hastings of Jefferson Boulevard, Los Angeles, is the color of life, or life as visualized by the red earth: the floor of Eden, the color of his laughing face, and a material you’ll often find in his work. Working in the tradition of so-called Earthworks artists Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria, Gordon Matta-Clark and others, Hastings creates pieces composed of materials from nature — dirt and rocks, water and plants — moved, manipulated and manufactured by man. It is an art movement of the West, making use of the territory’s lands, open spaces, traditions and mythologies. But whereas many of these artists are concerned with creating site-specific and lasting monuments — think James Turrell and his secret space-ship inside an Arizona crater, or Michael Heizer and his city of sculptures in the Nevada desert — Hastings, a homegrown artist of Southern California, is constantly reworking, resizing, repurposing, and returning to the dead and living earth.
Hastings’ works are like palimpsests, those medieval manuscripts on which pagan text was effaced and overlaid with the word of God, much like New World churches were often built on the ruins of sacred native ground. In one series a pile of dirt is graded with a pitcher’s mound refinement; then shoveled away and stamped into a colossal wall of crystallized mold; later painted and pickaxed, the pieces put back together as a ruin of indeterminate provenance. Fragments are shorn from styrofoam monoliths, canvases washed clean of their brushstrokes and covered with surfboard wax. Walls of carefully composed succulents and lichen bloom and wilt like a living tapestry. Exposed to the mountains’ wind and rain, cardboard egg cartons arranged in undulating curves decompose and disperse, their weakened fibers scattering like seeds throughout our Golden State.
But like those scraps of old parchment, traces remain and are made visible. And we take them with us; specks of dirt in the broom’s fibers, in the jacket’s pocket, in the body’s breath. The eraser does not rub out all of the pencil markings; responses to Proust’s questions are reworked and rewritten like so much of our broken history. There is no final answer to life’s questions or to the lifeless things we leave behind.
Hastings creates large scale works, but they are monuments to moments: a Stonehenge of ice disappears into the drought-stricken ground; a ziggurat of impacted soil disintegrates in the open sun. They are about transition and change, natural and manmade metamorphoses. Like all artists, Hastings’ work is an act of ego, an act that ricochets between the opposing points of the selfish and selfless—this thing needs to be told, no one else can tell it like I can, and I need to tell others. But for Hastings it is also an act of humility, of subsuming his own ego to make works that speak to our own desire to destroy, our own mortality, the finite, the end of things, the dead dirt. And really, all art is an act of destruction: of tradition, of assumptions, of artifice, of what came before us and is now lost to the desert.
Art is never done; it is not static, nor a commodified masterpiece locked within the four white walls of a gallery or museum. Beyond the feel of the velvet rope and the sound of the auctioneer’s gavel you can see it in flux; vulnerable, open, ephemeral, and in the end, what it always was, of the earth and returned to the earth, to oblivion. Hastings’ art, by being lost to time, speaks for our time.