In January of this year, the Dibble Gallery hosted an exhibition with Mark Knudson, Daryll Erdmann and Paul Vincent Bernard, entitled “Spirit of Place.” Each artists’ philosophies on just what “place” is to them, was expounded upon by their painterly responsiveness to a certain landscape location of their choosing. Their responses were decidedly different and decidedly profound, and it became apparent that “place,” conveyed something personal to each of these artists, regardless of physicality. The “Spirit of Place” ultimately transcended this physicality in every situation.
The current show at 15th Street Gallery, featuring artists Blake Luther, Anne Wolfer, and Jill Barton, takes a different departure from the subjective approaches to place, and finds each artist using the dimensionality of space, with results that are entirely different and evocative of formal aesthetics and personal artistic choices and sensibilities to their subject. Although each artist is singular in their approach to their subject, the nature of the fundamental element of space is constant, objective, and unites these three artists, creating a formal unity and harmony that is rhythmic and soothing, and revealing.
Luther’s subjects are exclusively landscape, and might be called stark, bold, and even figural in his use of vertical structures. There is a sense of human presences here that might even be called “existential” as his use of the linear, in these contexts, is so strong. In “Park Matrix,” for example, there is a subject of trees, painted with a personal signature graphic style, yet there is less of a tendency to grove the trees than there is to stand them alone in there place, together, yet isolated, in the traditional existential manner of Giacometti.
This is not the case for Wolfer, who also delves into a great deal of landscape, yet even though the land is primarily barren, there is more of a Diebenkorn tendency to play with the patterns of the land, such as with “All Terrain,” making the most of turquoise blue and yellow, and like Diebenkorn, creating divisions in the expanse with color, with the same element of Modernist flatness, up until the horizon, where there is an implied recession and then a great white of sky.
How are these two paintings harmonic and rhythmic? Regardless if it is a figural monumentality or a stylistic structuralism, space is the controlling factor that allows each of these singular characteristics to be. Spatiality admits for the monumentality and the stark, bold approach, dividing up the land, and spatiality allows for the being of the expanse and recession into space and then sky. As these paintings are hung next to each other there is a marvelous synergy.
For Luther, we see an extremism of the allowance of space to articulate the dimensionality of his landscape, in “Francis Silo.” It might be a lonely and barren scene, but the contrasts made between the large rounded tree, the tall silo, and the shallow cluster of farm industry against a recessed large and hazy hill, that does not reach the center of the picture plane, instead creates a scene of powerful minimalist structural interest. Again, like the trees, the silo stands alone, a figural allusion to an existential phenomenon represented in these reductive and barren elements, which becomes intriguing in their isolation.
In “Harspwell Dock,” from Wolfer, we find the opposite, a canvas consumed by structure, but it is a weathered and weary dock in a bay, with only three basic picture planes, a band of ivory sky, the lifeless dock, and the glistening and refreshing looking water, the redemptive element to the painting contrasting lifeless elements with animation. Again, regardless that both of these images have entirely different aesthetic approaches in every way, it is their consummation by space, their spatial structure, that creates their being, and lends their compositional elements that unites them, and again, as they are hung close together on the gallery wall, they are in unison with the other.
Where Wolfer breaks away is her series of still lifes. These are empty bottles cursorily painted against a dark ground on a cool menthe green ground. “Dark Bottles 2” is the composite of a short glass medicine or cosmetics jar refracting the green from the ground beneath it. Next to it is a taller, black jar, an olive oil container perhaps; refracting the menthe and cooler tones in front of the blackness. These bottles are defined by their space. Their being and structure is made recognizable by the space they inhabit. This is no different than Luther’s “Sentinel.” This is a lone evergreen in the middle of a field, standing erect and isolated against the field and hazy hills behind and an even hazier sky. It is its spatiality that makes possible its being and acknowledges its existential presence in the field as it resides alone and silent.
We have asked what is the figure with or without spatiality to give it presence and reality. But what is space without the figure, the lone, silent tree? What is space without the bottles, or the dock, or the silo, or the planes, or the grouping of trees to give it presence and reality? Jill Barton’s paintings present a representational hypothesis to this in their abstract purity. Her “Big Ocean” a painting totally abstract, with the most reductive elements of color: steel and cold gray, blue, and ice white, with slate gray, painted in an ethereal application of horizontal stratus-like streaking, with no subject other than the purity of the color, mood, tone, expression, emotion, intensity and subtlety, addresses the question, but the answer is equivocal. Perhaps it is a void, or perhaps it is pure reality.
“Little Bird I” and “Little Bird II” is a diptych existing together, each requiring the other. Each is more substantive, with teal blue melding with pearly white, and chalky gray with a similar raison d’être, and here, “representational” of space, although charged with meaning. Apparently, space is not autonomous, but like the figure, space too is a reality that must be defined by “the other,” in order for it to be present and real.