The Fate of Landscape Painting
Landscape painting has always been tied to the question of fate. The pastoral landscape was comforting, conquered and subdued, signaling that the fate of humanity was in a position superior to that of nature. By contrast the experience of sublime vistas and nature's most extreme forces were thought to threaten the human subject, and were often represented by the awe of unimaginable distance, overwhelming future obstacles and the possibility of an impassible journey forward. Of course, these were pre-modern notions of the fated condition of confronting the landscape because they take it for granted that there was no other condition, save that of struggle. In fact, there was no way around the landscape as a fated relationship until theinvention of trains, planes and automobiles. As a consequence of these inventions the genre of landscape receded into the distance during modernism as our relationship to the environment became one defined by greater and greater degrees of distantiation.
After more than a century of being exiled from relevance, landscape painting has made a rather triumphant comeback by embracing the concerns of land and eco-art, but transmuting the central concerns of these excursions into the landscape into pictorial dispotifs. Once again, we are trying to picture the landscape, but not as caretakers or conquers. Instead we are confronted by the landscape in its aggregate and transversal effects. What was assumed to be inert has now become active. What was thought of as a bounded material has become a dynamic form of animism. In short, it seems that since we've displaced enough of modernity's unfortunate by-products in the atmosphere and the ground below, the earth has entered into an era of gail-in-revolt. And we might only be experiencing the first rumblings of waking up to the consequences of ignoring the landscape during modernism, both as a reality and a set of pictorial conventions. And so, we too, are waking up to the consequences of our own sleep with regard to the problematic of creative destruction and cognitive dissonance which defined the modern era.
But the artists in the Fate of Landscape Painting bring a renewed look at the landscape without any sense of productive indifference. The work of Travis Ivey plays with the dichotomy of romantic naturalism and constructed areal views by assembling pictures from discarded commercial goods and traditional materials. Layne Farmer's imprinted works, have a contrast of stain and imposto that makes the landscape into an irreal phenomenon. Cami Galfore gives us a picture of its ghosted contours, combining the orthographic feel of eastern landscape painting with the techno-vibrancy of our contaminated life-world. Devon Tusno provides the punctum of picturing the landscape by passing it through saturated chromatic scales cast against so many iconic motifs. Abbey Messmer paints with a method that is part dreamscape, part improvised reconstruction --- where the place of the human subject is put in question, especially with regard to the feeling of a well defined cartesian space. Cam Decassiun paintings are perhaps even more telling in this regard, as they often hint at a post-hopperesque world, one where what's left of the nuclear family remains otherwise occupied, or even cast in absentia from the earth, as what remains of naturalism in a world of suburban sprawl. Sarah Hathaway's more expressionistic approach gives us pause to reflect on both the last vestiges of a world without us, a nature of affect and effect, while both Viginia Katz and Jonathan Marquis explicitly confront the themes of climate change by marshaling the ability of art materials to highlight the notion of material change as a fact of environmental conquest. Emily Ritter's installation points to how the problems of accumulation, degradation and debris can be made into a literary corpus, or a exquisite encyclopedia of the ruins of today, or or ruins in the rhetoric of display.
Together, these artists address the Fate of Landscape Painting in a different manner than their premodern predecessors. They come not to bury the dead presuppositions of modernism but to exhume its exhausted remains, and possibly, to retrieve the potential of a genre cast aside for almost an entire epoch. They come to resuscitate its lost potential, to make its fate something more than the logic of post-industrial capitalism and planned obsolescence. In fact, in their able hands The Fate of Landscape has a brighter future for foregoing demode romanticism and facing up to the demands of what many now call the age of the anthroposcene. If anything, their work is a harbinger to thinking deeply again not just about the value of an image, or a genre, but the values of western culture in total. And because of this, Landscape Painting still has a bright future today, tomorrow, and for generations to come. It seems, that for this generation, it is even fated to be so.
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