Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Landscapes Across Locales

[“Cascade” (2009), Ryan Mrozowski, acrylic on canvas over panel. “Untitled #4” (2008), Thomas C. Card, sequenced pigment prints. “A Palace of Intimate Measure” (2009), Jean-Pierre Roy, oil on linen. “Raceway” (2008), Erik Benson, acrylic on canvas over panel. “Sleep” (2009), Erik Benson, acrylic on canvas over panel. “Topwizard 1” (2009), David Jien, graphite on paper. “Untitled” (2009), David Jien, graphite on paper. “Horizons #1 through #4” (2002), Thomas C. Card, silver pigment prints.]

Los Angeles based painter and curator Aaron Smith recently wondered why so many young, savvy artists were using landscape as a mode of expression. In “Relocation,” a group exhibition of seven artists Smith curates at Sloan Fine Art, that traditional landscape vernacular is exploited with varying results. Including new works by Erik Benson, Thomas C. Card, Clare Grill, David Jien, Ryan Mrozowski, Marion Peck and Jean-Pierre Roy, this show—up through November 7th—challenges perceptions of the landscape as a safe or even old-fashioned mode.

Why this resurgence? Perhaps—in such anxious times—revisiting time-honored subject matter is reassuring. How about aroused awareness about human encroachment on the environment? In this day of instant messaging, maybe such loss of direct human contact has made spaces an especially important factor—making figures less relevant or desirable. Adaptations of urban and industrial vistas have also become an exciting challenge and necessary evolution for educated artists with no personal relationship to pastoral scenes or sweeping panoramas. Indeed, after speaking with artists, Smith found a combination of these factors figured prominently.

Known for referencing art history in his painting style as well as compositions, Aaron Smith found that commitment to personal expression is the most consistent element in what makes the work of these seven artists so current, fresh, and riveting. Landscapes presented in “Relocation” are re-imagined in a bracingly idiosyncratic dynamic rather than as neutral, collective space.

With his repetition and arrangement of images into monumental grids, Thomas C. Card calls forth the rigorous formalism of Mondrian (1872-1944). On closer inspection, one sees that images used to compose his works are soft, grainy photographs of mid-sized family farms that are destined to disappear in one or two decades unless something is done to counter unsustainable levels of debt incurred by farmers. How Card sequences information and multiplies images in creation of his works greatly adds to their meaning. His collages of landscapes using photography and print media are made of black and white pigment prints arranged into grids.

Infused with the heavy atmosphere of dusk, Ryan Mrozowski’s mysterious paintings exude a sense of ritual and unquantifiable uncertainty, while retaining humor and whimsy to lower the tension. Mrozowski filters his work through such lenses as history, spirituality, science, music, horror films, consumerism, video games, theater productions, sports, and literature. Interested in a life lived vicariously, his paintings depict crowds of figures gathered in pursuit of knowledge and entertainment.

Contrasting with Mrozowski’s paintings placed in a collective backwoods are Erik Benson’s cityscapes. When nature does appear in an Erik Benson acrylic on canvas, it is with a burst of life in neglected playgrounds or a slow, creep toward the foreground that is impossible to ignore. Not only are Benson’s subjects in conflict: His two techniques—painting and collage—compete for space. Benson’s contemporary cityscapes seethe with an ambivalent psychology and space tethered in temporality. Shards of the city’s everyday elements inform his paintings for better or worse.

Reminiscent of the spectacular, romantic, and allegorical paintings of Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Jean-Pierre Roy’s work finds itself inspired by current disaster films like Roland Emmerich’s upcoming “2012.” Hollywood showmanship coalesces with a strong sense of personal and collective dread in Roy’s paintings. Landscapes of Midwestern suburban nostalgia come to mind in Clare Grill’s sloppy paintings. Altering the narrative of family vacations and childhood ritual, Grill imparts a muffled melancholy. In her work, nature seems vaguely fetishized.

Marion Peck’s landscapes create a disquieting tableau that is on one hand alien, on the other familiar. Darkly humorous events occur in spaces distilled from greeting cards, dioramas, and Disney movies—disarming us with their familiarity before zapping us with their serious, and often seriously strange, messages. An absurd yet obsessively controlled fantasy world is our destination in the minute, fastidiously rendered graphite-on-paper works of David Jien. A sense of mysticism and wonder in Jien’s work is undercut by a hint of conspiratorial unease.

Aaron Smith has curated shows at the Alyce De Roulet Williamson Gallery at Art Center College of Design and Billy Shire Fine Art, among others. His work has been exhibition at the Frye Art Museum (Seattle), Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, Laguna Art Museum, Koplin del Rio and Jan Baum (Los Angeles), Ann Nathan (Chicago) and Sloan Fine Art to name a few. He is an associate chair at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and was the first artist in residence at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Relocation: A Group Exhibition

@ Sloan Fine Art

Through November 7, 2009

128 Rivington Street, New York City 10002

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