I love a good science fiction novel and Moira Crone's The Not Yet, is my recent favorite. Crone’s world is New Orleans in the year 2121, where the wealthy control society's resources and advances in healthcare allow them live hundreds of years. She explores the dark effects of that privilege beautifully.
I finished The Not Yet a couple months ago and, between then and now, one part of the book came back to me so often that I felt compelled to paint it. The scene describes the main character travelling by boat across an unrecognizable Gulf Coast to the French Quarter. On arrival, he thinks nothing is there save a spire in a sea of water, but as he approaches, he realizes the historic neighborhood is walled and sunken feet below the water line, as vibrant and full of commotion as the French Quarter today.
I loved this scene because its extreme draws on daily truths in our city: that many parts of New Orleans are below sea level, that walls keep the city safe, that sea levels are rising, and that we live ebulliently in this unlikely environment.
Moira Crone was writing The Not Yet when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and, in one interview, describes how the storm impacted the setting of her book. While reading The Not Yet, however, the focus is not on a great disaster or which parts of the city are gone, we’re lead to understand that whatever harm was done was lifetimes ago, but on which parts of New Orleans are still inhabited.
I wanted viewers who looked at the painted scene to have the same focus. The most historic neighborhood in New Orleans alone, surrounded by water, is a jarring image and so the first decision I made was to fill the water and sky that surrounded it with life. If we and everything we’d built around the French Quarter were gone 100 years from now, there wouldn’t be a void (nature famously abhors a vacuum). In our place would be a sea and life and the incredible, golden hour thunderstorms we bathe in every summer.
I used a late afternoon color palette to soften the scene into something warm and familiar and painted ripples in the foreground to place the viewer on the boat approaching the French Quarter. My hope is that viewers see the question, “you are here, what do you think of this place?” Maybe you find it troubling and maybe you find it beautiful.
Maybe you want to read the book. To get a sense of it, here's Moira Crone setting the scene for The Not Yet: