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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Richard Misrach 1985
American, born 1949
Desert Fire #249
Chromogenic print

Image: 18 5/16 x 23 inches
Sheet: 20 x 23 15/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Joan Morgenstern in honor of Clinton T. Willour

Arts of North America

As a student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the late 1960s, Richard Misrach developed a keen sense of activism. He produces provocative photographs of man-altered landscape and is most famous for his lifetime project the Desert Cantos series. Begun in 1979, these images examine the complex interaction between humans and nature, aesthetics, politics, and ecology, particularly of the American West. Misrach's photographs are incredibly beautiful, yet they address social issues in a critical and provocative way.

Although Misrach considers all of his desert photography to be part of one single work, he has divided the pictures into subseries called "cantos," each representing a song in a song cycle or a stanza in a love poem, visually examining a different aspect of desert life. Though he originally started with four cantos (representing the four elements: earth, air, water, and fire), he continually adds new ones. This image from Canto IV shows a controlled agricultural fire, set to clear alfalfa fields. The beauty of the scene of a desert fire demonstrates the complexity of Misrachís approach, juxtaposing the formal splendor of the dramatic and expressive color against the sobering implication of air pollution.

To view specific works by Misrach in the collection, contact the museum's Works on Paper Study Center for an appointment.