I like an image that urges me to question it, one that makes me step back and squint and cock my head just a little. An initial look at the landscape paintings in Jake Longstreth's show All it is suggests nothing out of the ordinary: clean lines, minimalist aesthetic, subdued palette, restrained execution. And yet, there's something subtly unnatural about them, something out of place.
Dealer is a washed-out desert landscape cut across by a freeway overpass and a string of colorful flags; a white van parked below seems to illuminate the piece's title. As with all of Longstreth's landscapes, the Dealer is largely abandoned, and yet a suggestion of presence pervades the scene. Lengths of pipe lying in the foreground appear to have been arranged with a deliberate hand; they convey order rather than disarray. The string of banners stretching over the field add color and visual interest to a faded scene, and yet its presence feels contrived, a little too perfectly placed—this is a landscape of careful orchestration.
Appalachia presents a deep blue swath of pool in the foreground, a dense clump of trees sitting just beyond, and a hazy line of mountain faded into the distance. The exaggerated size of the pool would suggest a decorative function—a reflecting pool, perhaps—but the step leading down into the water shows otherwise. The length of safety railing running along one side of the pool again looks deliberately placed, satisfying the artist's sense of visual order.
Perhaps the most carefully orchestrated is Crematory, whose perfectly manicured lawn bewilders with its excessively detailed patterning that appears at once dynamic and static, suggestive of movement yet frozen in a quiet stillness. The scene, emptied of all signs of human activity, begins to look less like a landscape than an artificial digital image, the vivid green crisscross patterning of the lawn especially redolent. The scene is entirely artificial, and yet it is an elevated artificiality, endowed with a cool, tranquil harmony.
(*Images, from top to bottom: Jake Longstreth, Crematory, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48", courtesy of the Artist and Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco. Jake Longstreth, Dealer, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36", courtesy of the Artist and Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco. Jake Longstreth, Appalachia, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48", courtesy of the Artist and Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco.)