Until the End of the World? Biocentrism and Traces of Human Presence in the Paintings of Josh Keyes

Peter Bengtsen


This article considers the paintings of the contemporary American artist Josh Keyes from an ecocritical point of view and discusses the importance of biocentrism and the affinity between humans and nature in the artist’s work. It argues that although Keyes’ imagery almost never includes human beings, his paintings still relate a sense of human presence through the depiction of cultural artefacts and the use of an axonometric perspective. The latter creates connotations to scientific sampling and technical drawings and is thereby suggestive of the continued presence of human beings in the depicted post-apocalyptic future. The article proposes that Keyes’ projections of the future, where cultural landscapes and artefacts have been reclaimed by nature, constitute a critique of an anthropocentric ethics and its related practices. Further, the article demonstrates the importance given by both artist and his audience to the biocentric agenda of the artwork. This is evidenced by the mixed reception of some of Keyes’ more recent works which neither contain cultural artefacts, nor make use of an axonometric perspective. The article argues, however, that these paintings also inscribe themselves in the central theme of biocentrism and advocate the affinity between humans and animals. They do so by invoking empathy in the viewer towards animals through the use of anthropomorphism.


anthropocentrism; anthropogenic; anthropomorphic; anthropomorphism; biocentric; biocentrism; apocalypse; apocalyptic; post-apocalyptic; ecocriticism; visual ecocriticism; visual studies; visual culture; art history; josh keyes

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549