The complete scope of the Diamond Alkali Superfund site occupies around 17 miles of the Passaic River. The “Passaic River”painted by William P. Campbell in 1965, takes inspiration from any of the properties located on the northern-end of the Superfund site, capturing the state of the river and in a time of industrial development, and presenting a glimpse of it’s consequence. The juxtaposition of items in the picture taken against the grain of the texture and color of it hint at a relation between the “life” of the river and those “living” on the river. It serves as evidence for the historical conversation of the Passaic River.
William P. Campbell is a graduate of both the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts and William Patterson University, at the time two notable, local schools near the Passaic. It was during his tenure as an undergraduate he was first able to gaze at the Passaic River. He drew the oil painting in 1965 in admiration of the river’s moments. It is not as clearly detailed as to appeal to the common citizen, but rather is intentionally open to deep interpretation. The type of paint used and the texture hints the audience is those of an artistic taste, a niche of the population. At first glance, the audience is not discernible outside of the common interest. However, the picture itself contains three discernible elements that speak to the state of the river and those living on it and the intended audience. These elements are the trees, the lake and the windows.
The lake itself represents the Passaic River, the body of water that connects this picture with the Diamond Alkali Superfund Site. It is visibly a murky river, reflecting hints of light, hinting at the poor state of the river. It is a glum vision of the river, as if the water on the basin lay still. The river also seems to be the source of soil and nutrition of the tree located in the center. As mentioned before, the trees seem to differ in nature. The lake and the grass seem to be the different origins of both the trees. It is implied that the river contributes to the weird growth of the branches.
The trees are the most potent element of description within the painting. First the two clearest examples were placed in the right of the painting. One of these trees is tall and healthy, while the smaller seems to be growing. These contrast with the plant portrayed in the center of the painting. The observer will find this image the hardest to pick out; the author seems to make it difficult to identify as if to imply a connection between the two. The roots lead straight to the water. Additionally, this center tree has a widespread set of branches. They extend across the supports of the house, toward the other two trees with which can be described as a dull malice. The contrast between the three trees represents a difference in their origin. Drawn in the background of a spring green, the two trees to the right of the building inherently come off as natural. The tree located in the center of the picture has the bottom of the deck as a background. It implies the aura of the mysterious, almost foreboding.
The last element that the observer should note is that house. The six windows portrayed. The four windows facing forward are all filled with light. This implies life inside the property. This is a significant contrast to the two windows located on the right of the building, both of which seem shut closed. A further analysis of the buildings’ prefaces shows that they seem to align at the point of contrast of the trees. The mysterious tree lies under the deck of the property, under the forward facing wall of the house. This is the same side in which all four windows are filled with lights. The two shut windows lay nascent to the two “natural” trees mentioned before. It is more evidence of the dualism this perspective invokes.
The parallel between contrasts are what hint at what Campbell wants to point out. The state of the Passaic River seems stuck in between two phases. Natural growth and unnatural growth. The natural growth is represented by the right side of the picture. It is duly lighted, and contains two trees of the picture. However the windows of the building, arguably those within it, are shut off. On the left side of the picture, the underside of the deck is portrayed. With little light, the tree is blanketed in the mysterious. The face of the building over this deck, however, is lit, as if to symbol life. It is interesting to see these pairs of differences align in the picture. It is clear that Campbell was trying to bring awareness to the river. More specifically, he wants to show the current image of a riverfront property on the Passaic River has multiple takes. The picture allows for a depth of interpretation, something the term Superfund shares in common. This picture alludes to the dual nature surrounding the river, a characteristic even the parties trying to remediate the Lower Passaic River exhibit.