Marsden Hartley once said of the American Southwest, where he painted often, “I like the country very well for it is big and clean and true, and there is nothing dirty standing between one and the sunlight.” Dan Attoe’s current work dissects the romantic ideal behind this rather quaint seventy-year-old utterance and uncovers something unpleasant along the way.
In the small gallery at Western Exhibitions, Hartley comes to mind in a large drawing by Attoe, “Monument Valley.” Here, the barren Arizona landscape is rendered in thick red watercolor. Unlike Hartley’s picturesque Modernist landscapes, though, an interstate bisects the otherwise placid space and, most distinctly, a penis/man/talisman hangs under the sun.
“Sea Kayakers (You Are Not Special)” is a realistically rendered oil painting portraying, yes, a bevy of sea kayakers rowing through a thick fog. The kayakers are absorbed in their tasks but seem aimlessly afloat on a horizon-less sea; it is only through the blind chance of the currents, or the floating decapitated Rob Zombie visage, that they do not collide and drown, ruining what had promised to be an exciting excursion.
This collision of humans with the landscape is a major concern for Attoe, particularly the American landscape. In “You Ruin Our Time,” the American idiom is recast as an SUV commercial (though perhaps it has already become that), as citizens are entertained by a wet t-shirt contest/rodeo, while a Native American ghost sits ruminating on what has become of his bones. Answer: they lie underneath an amusement park.
Though a relatively small show, each of the three works provide a powerful and disarming picture of the desperation faced by post-post-postmodern humanity when confronted with the sublime and the ancient. As expressed in two text boxes in “You Ruin Our Time,” the things we want and the things we need have never seemed further apart. (Erik Wennermark)
Through October 10 at Western Exhibitions, 119 N. Peoria St.