The Nature of Things
Ruth Bachofner Gallery is pleased to present “The Nature of Things”, a group exhibition curated by Virginia Katz and Constance Mallinson, opening July 21, 2012.
Landscape painting and photography have always been “the barometer of anxieties over the balance of power between nature and culture”. Much traditional landscape imagery has focused on Romantic, escapist picture making and that paradigm has now been commercially co-opted and implicated in nature commodification, contributing to deforestation, rampant development and pollution.
The nine contemporary Los Angeles artists featured in the exhibition “The Nature of Things” are exploring the reassessment and redefinition of the natural at the beginning of the 21st century. These artists eschew older models of picturesque pastoralism or Arcadian retreats and derive their images from a deep involvement with their urban environments and the culture itself. Their role in transforming our perceptions of nature lies in exposing the conflicting assumptions, anxieties, and tensions over the intersections of urbanity and nature.
All of the artists embrace the importance of locality, with nature described as it is discovered in their immediate environment. Whether botanical studies or collages, interpretations of the recent natural and manmade sublime, depictions of the interpenetration of nature and humans, or examinations of the cultural structures and methodologies by which nature is represented today, their varying approaches acknowledge a loss of an idealized past while seeking to express the complexities of the natural world in the present. With each of these artists, the beauty of natural form is paramount but held in precarious balance with the human-made.
Virginia Katz had a solo show with Ruth Bachofner in 2011 with additional exhibitions at the Irvine Fine Arts Center and Beacon Arts In Los Angeles. Her on-going painting series focuses on land formations and topography as derived from global satellite and aerial photography resulting in rich abstractions that vacillate between pure representation and a flowing, free form expressionism. The urban areas, suburban housing tracts, deforestation, agriculture and irrigation depicted evidence a “striking beauty in human patterns of civilization that reflect intelligence, logic and order.” Seen in tandem with natural areas such as wetlands and forests, Katz reveals the encroachment of civilization, but also the possibility of a balanced, ecological world view.
Painter and critic Constance Mallinson was recently part of “Unnatural” at Los Angeles Municipal Gallery and currently has a solo exhibition at the Culver Art Center Gallery at UC Riverside this summer. Using decayed natural materials and human detritus gathered from her daily walks in suburban Los Angeles, she creates minutely detailed, artificial landscapes and human figures that uncannily mimic the actual. For this exhibition, her landscape on plywood is reminiscent of Japanese screen painting in its flat use of decorative space and suggestion of gold leaf, but the depiction of a dead forest in relation to the plywood building material itself is brought into play.
Painter Merion Estes has exhibited extensively in Southern California and nationally, most notably in a solo survey at the Pomona Art Museum, USC Fisher Museum Gallery, and numerous recent solo exhibitions in Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Her works on paper and larger canvases combine an expressionistic paint and collage technique using materials as diverse as exotic African textiles, Chinese calendar art, to found photographs that reference the natural. These turbulent, sometimes “distasteful”, yet ultimately beautiful renditions of oceans or land play back and forth between the beauty and fragility of life and the tragedy of human intervention.
Multi-media artist Kim Abeles has been the recipient of many awards and numerous public art commissions, most notably a California Community Foundation and C.O.L.A. grant. Beginning in 2004 she began a series incorporating satellite photographs of urban areas into sculptural structures with meticulously hand-painted and crafted model trees pinpointing the actual city locations of trees. Through the exaggerated scale of the trees, Abeles brings a hyper awareness of the importance and preciousness of every bit of the natural in a primarily concrete urban setting.
James Griffith has been exhibiting in Los Angeles, most recently with the Offramp and Project 210 galleries in Pasadena and his work is in the collection of the Norton Family Foundation and the Boise Art Museum. Indigenous wildlife like coyotes, birds, insects are exquisitely rendered with tar collected from the La Brea Tar Pits in urban Los Angeles, only to partly disintegrate in expressionistic whirls, puddles and pools of liquid burnt umber tar; other natural materials like pollen, sand, grit and copper sulfate provide additional hues and sparkle. Griffith implies “both the dynamics of geologic time and nature at the mercy of human development.”
Having exhibited in Korea, New Zealand and Hong Kong, and a solo show in Tokyo, painter Devon Tsuno also has recently published Horticulture Los Angeles, a book documenting his paintings. Working with an intricate layering process of spray paint and acrylic his semi abstract, kaleidoscopic paintings on handmade paper are focused on the LA landscape’s non-native vegetation which he photographs around the city then renders them in paint. While visually compelling for their varied color and form in depicting the multitude of exotic plant life in the city, Tsuno also draws metaphors for how the many foreign influences encountered in urban areas define the cultural landscape as well.
Over a long career, Barrie Mottishaw has been painting scenes en plein air in ex-urban Los Angeles: the scrubby hills in the environs of Los Angeles containing high tension power line towers, roadways, housing tracts challenge the perception of her native Los Angeles as a sunny paradise. As in the three paintings here, she brings our attention to the native arid landscape that requires ruthless commandeering of non local water sources and massive amounts of energy to perpetuate the endless illusion of lushness and contentedness. She has had solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles Municipal Gallery, Pitzer College and the Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Los Angeles and is currently writing and illustrating a book about her travels throughout the West.
Two photographers, Elizabeth Bryant and Brian Forrest are included in the exhibition. Elizabeth Bryant has had recent solo exhibitions at Solway Jones in Los Angeles and in Chicago as well as been included in group shows at Yale University and the Riverside Museum of Photography. Since 2009 her focus has been on photographing Still Life Tableaux - set-ups constructed in and out of doors at her home in Los Angeles, using backdrop photographs of flora and fauna, found ceramic sculptures, and actual landscape elements. The resulting photographs are complex, visually baffling meditations on photography/perception and its ability to represent reality as well as on the increasing reliance on mass media images to inform us about nature as opposed to direct experience. With the handmade object always present, Bryant also seems to entertain questions about the place of human creativity in our relationship with the environment.
Since his acclaimed solo exhibition at Craig Krull Gallery in 2011, Brian Forrest, whose work is included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Frederick Weisman Art Foundation, has continued to photograph the nearby parks in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles at dusk. The nearly black, but rich and velvety photographs portray the abstract beauty of filligreed dense thickets, darkened oak glades as the light of the day is extinguished, rendering the subjects almost imperceptible. A sense of doom or threat hangs over the scenes and the viewer is invited to contemplate the endangerment of the wild areas in proximity to human life as well as our own possible demise. Like Bryant, photography is taken to its outer boundaries and nearly required to fail in rendering nature truthfully.