25 years on, Chernobyl stands as a permanent reminder to the world of what can happen when nuclear power goes wrong. It is now one the most radioactive regions on the planet with parts that will remain uninhabitable for over 700,000 years. But it also exists, paradoxically, as a place of strange and unexpected beauty. A place where wildlife is apparently thriving (the 30km exclusion zone around the power plant is now Europe’s largest nature sanctuary). A region returning to an era before humans, a land of forests and wolves.
The workers’ town, Pripyat, has become a modern Pompeii. The hastily abandoned Soviet buildings are now frozen in time as radioactive animals move in, radioactive trees grow inside and the concrete slowly crumbles.
I am continuing to work on a large series of paintings relating to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the ongoing aftermath of what happened to the surrounding environment . I find many elements of the subject compelling:
- the idea of a threat (radiation) that is completely undetectable to our natural senses.
- the ultimate ghost town, Pripyat: a town of 50,000 quickly evacuated and never to be inhabited again.
- the natural decay of things: nature reclaiming the buildings.
- the paradoxical beauty of a region so polluted and altered, but surviving.
- the buildings standing as a memory of life in the Soviet era.
- the zone standing as a warning of the dangers of nuclear power as governments and assorted business sectors try to push through a new generation of reactors.
- the danger that is still present: almost all of the dangerous nuclear materials are still inside the current aging sarcophagus, hastily built after the disaster and already past its intended 20 year life span.
I visited the Exclusion Zone in October 2009. I had a solo exhibition of Chernobyl paintings and photographs with the Chernobyl Children’s Life Line charity in 2011.