MW Capacity is pleased to present Tenses of Landscape, an invitational group exhibition of contemporary landscape paintings. The exhibition is on view from October 1 – November 4, 2012, in the University of Arkansas Fine Arts Center Gallery, in Fayetteville, AR. Throughout October, MW Capacity will post a series of artist interviews and other statements, as well as images of works featured in Tenses of Landscape. We sent the participating artists a list of general questions and prompts. Some replied, some replied in-depth, some chose not to. Today’s post includes a few responses from the prompts, as well as some relevant links to other online content.
KIMBERLY TROWBRIDGE: After living in the Midwest for many years, I moved back to the Puget Sound area where I had spent my early childhood. Living here, one is surrounded by pockets of water on the one hand, and deep mountain forests on the other. There is a sense of mystery, of the unknown, at every periphery. When I was a child, I used to spend time descending into the large gully behind our house that led all the way down to the train tracks that ran along the waterfront. There was a sense of danger, and the fear I felt was part of its majesty. I was searching for clues, for that one particular stick that would give me the gift of flight. The forest was full of secrets, and I was listening.
When I think of the landscape, I think of the implications of deforestation on the human mind— the loss of access to those mysterious messages that have guided me as an artist. I think of the loss of the unknown, the loss of uncharted territories. Recently I saw images of an “uncontacted” tribe found in the Amazon. There was a small group of people looking upwards at the plane taking the photograph. This image has haunted me. What is happening to the human mind, the human experience, as we cut away access to a landscape that can reflect the deep interworkings of the subconscious? What are the implications of satellite photography and Google mapping, where the unknown is being closed in on by the nameable, the known? Dystopia is about this fractured mind. It is a depiction of the moving-in-on the very last patch of grass left on Earth.
I am interested in relationships between things, in metaphors, in associations that connect separate events of perceptions. These associations can be triggered by color, by shape, by language. Painting is a place where these associations come together, and where their relationships can be explored, and their tensions maintained. I want to create a visual space where the viewer stands at the cross-road of multiple associations, and where the connections between those associations are revealed through an intimate, personal response to them. This is not unlike the poetry of daily life— the mingling of the internal and external landscapes of experience, and our quest for meaning.
I do not believe in ‘objectivity.’ The world extends outwards from our body and mind, and comes rushing back in, redefining who we are. Life is a collaboration between the internal and the external; it is a dialog. In painting, I seek to make that dialog visible.
CARLA KNOPP: Entering the painting process is entering a place of complete autonomy. One becomes liberated from previously established motives and goals (of both external and internal origins). One becomes liberated from oneself. I experience this fear when I relinquish my own agenda, and replace it with trust that something good will happen.
A second type of fear occurs when something “really big” does happen. When manna rains down, it’s a bit terrifying. In the back of one’s mind, this is the only reason for even doing this—for something beyond one’s own comprehension and abilities to spring forth. This closeted goal lingers and causes discomfort because one fears it will not happen, and also fears it will. It’s daunting and exhilarating.
Scatter and discard everything, reject it even. Let yourself be really dumb. The important stuff finds its way back into the painting, and it’s startling when one realizes, after the fact, that things are working really well (even in an academic sense). So often, conceptual ideas will sync up with personal narrative ideas and it can happen through unintended formal collaborations. My work in this show exemplifies this multiple hook-up of unintended intentions. I was very reluctant to use a metallic ground for the Lane Markers. I thought the elegance of the surface would distract from the “us-them” psychological setup of the archetype. I went ahead and used the metallic ground, and while I worked on them, I kept feeling vaguely frustrated. I struggled with lighting, and with viewing the reflective work surface. At some point, it dawned on me that the formal qualities of the metallic surface were mimicking the subjective theme. I wanted to enter into the scenes I was creating, and the metallic ground optically pushed me back. Us-them, desire-repulsion, intimacy-boundary. I am certain I could not have pre-calculated such a dynamic between subject matter and formal action, and I’m also certain I would not have recognized it without an academic perspective.
KRISTIN MUSGNUG: For me, the big, overarching issue has to do with how we as humans construct an idea about what nature is, and what does that say about ourselves – how does that affect what we do? I started in Texas with a landscape that wasn’t completely domesticated or wild. I’ve dealt with gardens as a place where nature has been constructed, and mini-golf courses as a place where nature has been constructed ridiculously. Ideas about Arcadia, of pastoral nature, are interesting because they are ideas that shape nature into what we think it ought it to be. This led to national parks, which are managed to look like they’re not managed. The truth is, with so many people there, everything’s kind of trampled. I don’t get the sense of vitality of nature that I get in a place that isn’t an official park. I made a painting once of a park trail where a birch tree had fallen across, and rather than just move the tree, someone had very carefully cut out just the part of the tree that crossed the trail [as if to say] “this part is undisturbed.”
The whole idea of nature is so fraught. I don’t think anybody can think about nature, or painting outside, without being aware of the assault that people have made on what was once the natural state of the earth. With these paintings, it’s the first time in a while where I’ve been going to very wild places, where I don’t feel the presence of a person. I’m feeling a certain strangeness about that. Painting, then listening to the news about global warming, the acidification of the oceans, and here I am painting this… bucolic isn’t even the word, this romantic, pristine kind of fantasy, trying to wrap my mind around that. It’s not like I’m going to stop and go paint a toxic waste dump. For me, that’s been done.
We have a sort of feeling that a lot of art is aimed at something disturbing, uncomfortable. I’m irritated when people use the word “subversive.” Ted Kaczynski is subversive. Does art have to be all that? It CAN be challenging, but as a Westerner, I don’t know if we’re equipped to do that.
I’m not sure objectivity exists. My whole enterprise is predicated on that. The act of recording something kind of encodes a memory. I have very subjective responses to paintings that I don’t have to photographs. Some of what I’m doing in the studio is based on memory, and I have to hope that enough got into the studies.
One of the byproducts of doing the project on invasive species is that I became very aware when I walked through the woods of what an intact ecosystem looks like and what a compromised system looks like. Superficially they might be similar. It might look like woods, but you look more closely and the whole understory might be something running rampant that doesn’t really belong there. Uncompromised systems have this richness and patina. It just feels like a much richer environment. I think that’s partly what’s driving me now, why I’m going to these pristine places, because there’s a visual richness that I’m intrigued by.
There’s so much coming in at any one time, you have to sort of make a decision about where your attention is going to go. It’s more so this way in landscape, which is one of the reasons I like it, but this is present at any given moment: mind as reducing valve.
One of the things that I love about painting is that it’s a shared language dealing with the visible world, yet it goes into a person’s mind, changes, and comes back out. You’re in their mind with them. it’s an incredibly intimate endeavor.
Lastly, a link to the first post MWC did on CASEY ROBERTS, back in the days of the long-format comment thread conversations…
Shown on this post, top to bottom: Kimberly Trowbridge, Dystopia, 2011, oil on canvas, 22×20″; Carla Knopp, McJunkin Road, 2010, oil on metallic ground on linen, 31×47″; Kristin Musgnug, Mossy Rocks, oil on canvas, 2012; Casey Roberts, The Witnesses, 2012, cyanotype drawing with gouache on paper, 53″x53″