Exploring new and old landscapes

Having it all
By BRITTA KONAU  |  March 13, 2013

‘UNTITLED’ By Hilary Irons
The nature-inspired work of Lydia Badger, Hilary Irons, and Erik Weisenburger, on display at Rose Contemporary under the name "The New Landscape," is undoubtedly new — powerfully conceived, refreshingly innovative, and scrupulously executed — but the three are also happy to be part of a long tradition. As a whole, the show evokes multiple references to past art, art-historical concepts, and tropes (one of the latter being the notion that art works successfully displayed together can speak to each other). This bunch is definitely having a conversation, reminiscing about what a landscape painting used to be and musing about its future look. But as conversations go, they may all move in the same general direction but arrive there from different angles.

Threads that tie the work of Badger, Irons, and Weisenburger together, beyond the obvious formal ones generated by their shared subject, are an engagement in abstraction, an openness to narrative, and a vaguely post-apocalyptic atmosphere. All three artists also highlight artifice, in landscape in particular, and by inference, in representation in general.

Weisenburger is indebted in technique, subject, even framing, to centuries of landscape masters before him. Albert Pinkham Ryder comes to mind when considering the dark moodiness of small paintings like "The Last of the Red Squirrel" or "Lupine." "Ram Island Light" is a Brueghel-esque winter scene of a red-berried shrub and flock of birds atop a leafless tree that is depicted against a hazy blue sky and very low horizon. Oh, and it's round. Weisenburger deliberately and skillfully uses all the tricks of the trade, including how to lead the eye around a composition. But there's something dystopian going on that's hard to articulate. Maybe it's the absence of people, the congregation of a fox, squirrel, and crows around a dead tree under a subdued sun in "Lost Limb."

'RAM ISLAND LIGHT' By Erik Weisenburger
Irons does not look to represent landscape with an implicit eye toward abstract shapes and rhythms like a modernist painter would do, but layers colorfully patterned geometric shapes over renditions of natural scenes that are painted with a lively, abbreviating brush. The effect is manifold. Space around the interrupting shapes appears distorted. Two contrasting pictorial conventions of seeing, representing, and narrating collide within the same space like slippages of language. The lines of dots that occupy the geometric shapes are not painted as mechanically as one would assume at first glance. The stage-like space they generate does not supply the anticipatory look toward the future that the Russian avant-garde of the early 20th century aimed for, and which has served as an inspiration for Irons. Instead, the patterns and structures act like residues of actions having just taken place. Thus Irons's work succinctly elucidates the conventional dependency of art on stylistic vocabularies and narrative constructions.

Badger's exquisite constructions foreground the artifice of representation even more. Referencing museum display techniques like dioramas, miniaturization, and simulation, her wall-mounted "Root Cellars" are small facsimiles of patches of ground pierced by open hatches and ladders to access subterranean territory. Mining shafts and private hideouts come to mind, distinctly not comforting experiences of nature. Badger's "Core Samples" mimic bits of earth that support barren, defeated trunks of birch trees. Representation here has become reproduction with an attendant fakeness.

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Related: Review: Rose Contemporary blasts off, A peek at Portland art shows in 2012, Generation gap, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Hilary Irons, Lydia Badger
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