Category Archives: Landscape

David Price – San Juan Triptych

San Juan Triptych

David Price, San Juan Triptych (2014) encaustic on panel, 12 x 36 in. On view at Butters Gallery

San Juan Triptych offers three views that evoke the San Juan Islands and their particular combination of mountain, sky, sea, coast, and weather. A strong horizon line and the layered effect of encaustic gives them an unusual sense of depth. The soft focus and moody color palette recalls Impressionist paintings, but here the intention seems opposite. Price seems to be concerned not with capturing a particular afternoon or weather effect, but rather something more timeless and generalized: the feel and look of a place as remembered, not seen. While these paintings are small they have a wonderful solidity and presence  – in part due to the exposed and extra wide edges of the canvas and in part due to the deep, transportive space of the landscapes.



Anna Von Mertens – Aurora


Anna VonMertens, Aurora, hand-dyed cotton on wooden stretcher 54 x 100 inches, on view until May 31, 2014 at Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Aurora is vivid and saturated in color. But rather than being flat and graphic, the cotton surface gives it an interesting depth and vibrancy. It shimmers and floats or wobbles, like its namesake phenomenon. Taken together the show – Above, between and in – is pleasingly odd. The dyed cotton pieces are inspired variously by the aurora borealis, aura photography (which recalls medical imaging technology and images that register differences in temperature), and “patterns left behind from the artist’s nutritional juicing” (which look a bit like Helen Frankenthaler’s abstractions). The work feels like an experiment (and a successful one) in finding visual and conceptual inspiration in all sorts of places: the heavens, unseen energies, and waste.

Shinichi Miyazaki – River


Shinichi Miyazaki, River 2013-4, Douglas fir and ashfield stone On view at Augen Gallery until May 31, 2014

Miyazaki’s River is a gorgeous piece of smooth Douglas fir. The sloping form suggests, as the title would have it, a river. But I found myself thinking more of a watershed – the land that drains into a river. And of course trees depend on watersheds and rivers. The annual rings of the tree are exposed like geological strata. They’re a neat reminder that rivers exist in time – they change and evolve. Miyazaki clearly feels a reverence towards wood and trees. He notes that the wood that he works with is usually decades if not centuries old. He writes that, “I feel an obligation to mark its existence. … but basically I am trying to say thank you.” That sentiment certainly comes across and it’s infectious.

Gwen Davidson – Wallowa Mountains


Gwen Davidson, Wallowa Mountains (2014), acrylic, charcoal on paper on canvas, on view at Froelick Gallery (April 29 – May 31, 2014 )

Gwen Davidson’s landscapes are intriguing collages of color and form that flicker between abstraction and representation. Wallowa Mountains depicts a landscape that appears stacked like some sort of geological layer cake. Davidson creates her painted collages by first painting on papers of different textures and then cutting them into different sized strips. These strips she then affixes to the canvas. It’s a sort of paint by numbers landscape that offers a quite fresh way of seeing. Most interesting to me was the tension at work in many of these paintings: at once they seem to cohere and resolve into familiar views and at the same time to fracture into facets and bits of raw nature, slabs of color and texture, rock and dirt.

Zhan Wang – Artificial Rock #10


Artificial Rock #10 (2001) Zhan Wang (Chinese, born 1962) Stainless steel On view in Ink Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art (December 11, 2013–April 6, 2014)

Shiny and biomorphic, this contemporary scholar’s rock displayed in a Ming period room as part of the Metropolitan Museum’s Ink Art has an alien, otherworldly presence. In China, starting two thousand years ago, scholars would collect rocks to place in gardens or studies. Rocks that offered miniaturized representations of larger natural features are prized as are rocks that are thin, perforated, and wrinkled as these are evidence of powerful, slow-working natural forces. Artificial Rock #10 with its complicated, sloped surfaces look as if it had been sculpted by millennia of running water. But, in fact, sheets of stainless steel were hammered around a rock, then removed, welded together, and polished creating a hollow form – perhaps suggesting that the scholar’s rock itself has disappeared (at least its original referent). The shiny involuted surfaces are also intriguing; they make it hard to see your reflection and place yourself in this landscape.

Jacci Den Hartog – Peach Blossom Spring


Jacci Den Hartog (American, born 1962), Peach Blossom Spring, 1994, polyurethane over plaster and steel. On view at Portland Art Museum.

Den Hartog’s Peach Blossom Spring, a vertically oriented wall-sculpture of polyurethane over plaster and steel, teeters between the beautiful and the grotesque. It looks something like a traditional Chinese landscape painting that has been rendered in three dimensions and then coated in a thick, gloppy layer of polyurethane. The polyurethane is, itself, beautiful but it also piques one’s curiosity about what lies beneath. David Pagel, in a review from 1996 notes that these are examples of “landscape sculpture” a small genre and that they resemble “the unlikely offspring of Chinese landscape painting and tacky restaurant decorations (especially those found in Los Angeles’s Chinatown, where faux, mini-waterfalls gurgle over plastic rocks and synthetic moss, cascading into ponds filled with samplings of the fish on the menu).” Some insight into the sculpture’s beautiful landscape partially obscured and abstracted by a coating of polyurethane may come from the traditional Chinese fable Peach Blossom Spring Story, about a fisherman who discovers a utopia but is then unable to locate it again. Beauty is ephemeral and often fully accessible only once.

Traer Scott – Moose


Traer Scott, Moose (2011) Ultrachrome print

Last time I wrote about the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), those amazing and immersive scenes that are also fascinating examples of installation art. Perhaps as interesting as what’s behind the glass is what happens in front of the glass, as visitors, young and old, look in, sometimes scarcely breaking stride. Traer Scott’s photo series, Natural History, taken at the AMNH in 2008, captures these two layers. In Moose the face of a girl and boy appear to float on the body of the moose. There’s a witty reversal as the humans look ghostly and furtive and the wild animals look solid and in sharp focus. Nature and culture might be separate layers, but they’re always intertwined. Scott’s photos, by showing the human spectators, remind us that whenever we look at or represent nature we change it or perhaps simply become part of the representation

Jaguar Diorama – American Museum of Natural History


When I was young I loved the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and I still do. Now, however, the dioramas strike me as fascinating examples of installation art and not simply meticulously recreated natural scenes. On a recent visit to the AMNH the dioramas looked as wonderful, transportive, and sad as ever. As a child I was aware of the death that created these and my son (age six) was too. To me they’re of great historical interest. I found myself imagining what they might have looked like to visitors in the early 20th century. (The Hall of North American Mammals opened in 1942 while the African Hall dates from much earlier in the 20th century.) But these dioramas also struck me as contemporary in their sensibility and their aesthetic, teetering between earnestness and irony.

Zhang Jianjun – Scholar Rock (The Mirage Garden)

scholar rock

Zhang Jianjun – Scholar Rock (The Mirage Garden) (2008) Silicone rubber On view in Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China, Metropolitan Museum December 11, 2013–April 6, 2014

Zhang Jianjun ‘s playful Scholar Rock (Mirage Garden) is a scholar’s rock made out of pinkish purple silicone rubber. It’s a witty updating of an old form, but most surprising was just how good it looked on display in the Astor Chinese Garden Court at the Metropolitan Museum. To my eye both the sculpture and its surrounding garden brought the other more fully to life. Classic Chinese gardens are, after all, deeply crafted and controlled meditations on nature. And perhaps it makes sense that petrochemical substances are the scholar’s rocks of the 21st century. Both Jianjun’s scholar’s rock and the courtyard garden punctures the naturalizing force of the other.

Yang Yongliang – View of Tide

YangYongliang_View_of_tide_detail_1_courtesy18Gallery_Magda Danysz

Yang Yongliang, View of Tide (2008) Inkjet print On view in Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China, Metropolitan Museum December 11, 2013–April 6, 2014

This week I’m in New York City, so a number of upcoming posts, including this one, will feature interesting things I saw there. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” is full of compelling works. One that I was particularly beguiled by was View of Tide by Yang Yongliang. This massive scroll (17 inches x 32 feet) at first glance looks like a relatively straightforward Chinese landscape. But as you get closer that familiar ground starts to shift right out from under you. It’s harder to see in this photograph, but the mountains are made of countless highrise buildings that have been copied and digitally manipulated. The trees are power line towers and construction cranes. Here, those ubiquitous markers of contemporary China – big buildings, rampant construction, and electricity – have become the landscape. It would be easy to view this as an entirely negative image and yet I don’t think it’s that simple. There is an undeniable beauty and energy to this work and while it’s a critique of the new, it’s also surely a critique of the old: landscape aesthetics are often idiosyncratic and always artificial.

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