An uplifting Romanticism inspired the spacious, heroic American landscape painting of the early nineteenth century. Then came truth-to-nature, followed by truth-to-place and, eventually, truth-to-painting. But now, with no widely shared expectations, landscape painting is not so much a genre as an occasional mode of self-expression with a few identifiable natural features, illuminated by an inner rather than a solar light. A painter of meditative, dream-like vistas, Didier Nolet affirms that “landscapes are a mirror of myself.” Sandra Dawson, a painter of folkish, myth-like scenes, tells us that “my work evolves spontaneously and intuitively.”
Because they pursue no greater ambition than the fulfillment of the self, most of these paintings feel small and personal. Curiously, the most spacious vistas are depicted in three-inch miniatures meticulously painted by Michael Dubina on the inside of matchbook covers. Perfectly scaled to the matches that remain, they offer an infinity of light and space. Perhaps this project has been successful because the artist spent years getting the same effects from paintings that were much larger.
Ironically, the other spacious paintings are the ones that least resemble landscapes, even if the artist, Rebecca Crowell, tells us they were inspired by travels around the world. The titles may refer to someplace in Ireland, but the flat surfaces feel as infinitely complex as the surfaces of wood-fired pottery.
Many of the pieces echo earlier periods of landscape painting from the Netherlands and China, but these historical references are disappointing. Tom Leaver’s fantastic scenes, rendered with fingers rather than brushes, make me wish I were looking at the similar, but sharper and more ominous backgrounds painted by Gustave Moreau. My response might be different if these pieces were included in one-person shows that focused on the unique life of each artist rather than a group show on the subject of landscape.
For example, Joyce Polance also specializes in interpersonal relationships between nude female figures. There is also a suggestion of psychological drama in her landscape painting, but without any human figures, they just feel puzzling. (Chris Miller)
Through February 28 at Addington Gallery, 704 North Wells.
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently a Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition and Art Editor of Newcity. Formerly, he was Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.