The beach is blood-red and filled with brand-new white sneakers. Smashed and dashed shipping containers are nearby and partly in the water, which reflects red clouds and a silver sky. The name of this image of hell on earth is Untitled 2.
It's a painting in Collapse, an exhibit at Hedreen Gallery that's curated by Sampada Aranke and features the work of Dewey Crumpler, a black American painter with deep roots in the Bay Area. Crumpler's new paintings and sketches concern globalization, which is the international division of labor.
Most people think of the division of labor as a good thing. It makes production more efficient. Adam Smith expounded its wonderfulness with his famous description of a pin factory. But it is a mistake to associate the division of labor in a factory with that on a global scale. The former may be about efficiency, but the latter is about what the local economist Alan Harvey calls "wage arbitrage"—making profits from wage differences. A Chinese factory is really not any better than one in the United States. Either country could make pins pretty efficiently. However, China has one "comparative advantage," and that's low wages. This is the only reason why we have ships carrying sneakers over vast distances.
In Collapse, we see globalization as a continuous environmental catastrophe. The cargo ships are sinking or have just sunk into the sea. The containers are crashing or have just crashed on beaches and spilled their goods.
In Untitled 4, a storm rages above a wrecked cargo ship. The ship is gigantic. It would dwarf the largest animal, a blue whale. From the black clouds falls a toxic yellow substance. The containers on the ship are about to plunge into a sea that's as polluted as the sky it reflects. There are no humans in this and the other paintings. And yet you get the sense that this is not "the world after humans" or a futuristic disaster Eden—a deserted built environment that nature (trees, wild animals, bugs) is reclaiming. Crumpler isn't painting events in the future. He is painting the way things actually are now.
To better understand his vision, it helps to recall those fantastic sunglasses in the movie They Live. If you wear them, you can see the world not the way it looks (happy people shopping and driving cars) but as it really is (humans ruled by evil aliens and subliminal messages that command them to consume and reproduce). You must think of Crumpler's impressive series of paintings as those glasses. If you wore them while looking at the Pacific Ocean from a beach on, say, Vancouver Island, it would not look calm or timeless or majestic. You would see what's really going on out there. You would see Collapse.