TEXT BY MICHAELA MULLIN | VIEW IMAGES
This is the exhibit to bring in the winter season—a glorious focus on how climate and land changes, its effects and translations, investigating how we can watch the world, in its deciduousness, its change, erosion, and decomposition. And what new life artists make of and from such impressive observations.
The large-scale acrylic paintings of Sarah Grant continue to visually reverberate long after you’ve stepped away from them. Grant is an abstract expressionist who has, in this style, created spectacular landscape works. Brilliantly merging the expression of interiority with the elements and impacts of our environs. Many of these, including her “Organic Matter Series,” were made to showcase Iowa as a “beautiful place within the turmoil of the world—a break from the heavy stuff.”
And in her making, Grant says she uses the marks, the strokes and color to tell her story, and ours. Because she loves to draw, each painting begins with thick black lines, which create structure, which then begin to inform her intention. And through multiple layers, the work comes to fruition. The organic beginnings of these, many inspired by Grant’s own gardens throughout seasonal shifts, often transform into wonderful cacophonies that become inextricable parts.
“Prairie Rills,” for instance, is concerned with arc repetition and is organized to undulate between the staccato and the legato, creating spaces where soil seems to erode to make way for rivulets of blue acrylic—the land’s allowance for the stream’s intervention. “Flushing the Birds” evokes the scene of birds scattering en masse. In this painting, the black lines, as means to discern fauna from flora, have a predominance that creates an intended multi-directional movement.
“Sunset from the Deck” makes use of organic shapes, profiles of a shoreline, and outlines of cloudscape. Here, Grant’s solid black origin lines emerge the separate components of the waterside composition. Presenting as the least abstract, perhaps, is “Evening Campfire,” offering an almost representational scene of what its title implies. Points that appear to serve as tent tops form the core of the composition, and are embraced by blues, reds and yellow of flames. A ground is imagined with its vertical emergences of trees amongst the light, though darkening, sky.
Grant is interested in what stories stay with us from childhood, and how they “continue to express themselves, even abstractly, as we live out our lives.” One of her stronger memories is of the book The Wind in the Willows (1908). Later, in researching the life of its author, Kenneth Grahame, she became more fascinated by it, as well as the story behind the story. Grant’s telling of her experience with Grahame’s book comes through in the painting “Wind in the Willows.” Like the story, which is told through seasons and calendric movement, one could view this painting as a full year, holding many stories of many characters within one stupendous frame. There is a kind of narrative movement, entangled with glorious strokes and hue, the black cradling everything—holding each tone, tint and shade as they collide, intersect and demand space—giving carriage to all that travels across and around this non-representational storyboard.
Moving from the Thames Valley river down to the sea and channel, we find the new works of abstract painter Scott Charles Ross—though Ross admittedly often creates what he calls “abstract-representational” paintings. With these mesmerizing pieces, Ross takes us on a pastoral journey inspired by the geographic region he refers to as one of the loves of his life, Cornwall—the coastline, the blue of the water, the height of the cliffs, the microclimate, the southwest coastal path and its history, such as pirate ships in the coves near Penzance.
Ross’ love of process is primary in the building of the Baltic plywood panels around which he wraps his linen canvases. He prefers working on a hard surface, and he is building to last. Using oil on linen, his sheen and smooth panels give us small patches of the English countryside. With their painted edgings, the frame within the frame appears so that the viewer may feel like she is looking out a window onto the fields, water, and sky, with much the same vantage as Ross had in his original post. Devoid of figures, these visual idylls begin, as Grant’s abstracts do, with the crucial black line—for Ross, charcoal is the medium of choice, and the mark is a more straightforward delicacy of drawing.
“Zennor Farms” is a perfectly orchestrated coastal scene with complementary and tiered sections, but what at fist appears as a horizon line of clouds, may be a soft row of sea foam. Ross divides color and area by ambiguating the interstitial spaces, which in turn lends itself to an involvement of the beholder’s eye as decider—sky or sea? And in “Road to Zennor Farms,” another perspective of the same site is detailed, this time, as if the viewer is coming onto the property, the view so tight we cannot yet see the water.
Remaining in Zennor parish, “Porthmeor Settlement” is of land parcels, broken up in lots by Ross’ charcoal line, giving foundation and structure to its buildings, here whitewashed, as if palimpsests, written and erased by time and weather. Windows that may no longer see, walls that may or may not hold for much longer—again, the ambiguous nature of Ross’ images leave room for the exhilaration of seeing the structures both as solid and unstable.
“Tin Mine” and “Tin Mine II” depict imagined vertical “underground” views with simple shapes above ground. And in “Gunard’s Head” and “Red Fields” there is a horizontal shift, a move to more vibrant colors, as if the sun had drenched the most alive things in the region. In these, the charcoal lines seem to do more than parcel, but now perhaps act as fencing. And the buildings span the whole canvas, bifurcating the panels, though the colors—the most royal of blues and glowing of orange-reds— infiltrate both parts of the paintings, somehow highlighting that the man-made will not outlast the elements through time.
Works by Toby Penney and Jason Woodside are also on view until the first week of December.