I love the great outdoors but I have some difficulty with bugs, weather and inconvenience, so I totally enjoyed two of Jennifer Presant’s exterior-interior views. The viewer is surrounded by pristine landscape, uncluttered by billboards and bait shops. Yet the immediate sense is that the viewer is surrounded by wrap-around windows, as if standing on a glass-walled porch. I not only feel comfortable and safe, but also privileged to be so well served by both nature and human industry. The painting provides just enough information to make the scene convincing without sensing the hand that applied it. The décor is soothing. The hills, trees and riverbeds come to life beneath a glowing sky. Taken individually, these two paintings are joyful landscapes. Taken as a whole, this series of seven paintings suggests an updated version of Thomas Cole’s apocalyptic “Course of Empire” (currently showing in Milwaukee). The polar glaciers are melting, the seas are rising and much of civilization as we know it will soon disappear.
Not much pleasure can be taken from what appears to be the story’s final chapter, a dismal view of rotten wooden piling that may once have been a maritime city like Venice or New York. Nor can much pleasure be taken from the two cautionary scenes that involve classic Buddhist or Greco-Roman statuary. The beauty often found in those genres is lost in her drawing. But the other four scenes are delightful and surprisingly inventive. Especially her trip to the Field Museum—the relationship between nature and window is reversed as wild creatures, rather than people as in her other scenes, are encased in glass boxes. The dark silhouettes of museum visitors are perfectly and tenderly drawn. By itself, the scene is charming, but in context, the message is dark—the very partitions that establish civilization are the ones that lead to its destruction.
The beauty of several constituent scenes and the horror of the final outcome cuts both ways. If our world were not wonderful, why care about its demise? Yet if we were unaware of impending doom, we might not cherish each moment. And nothing serves to cherish the moment like a good painting. (Chris Miller)
Through April 30 at Linda Warren Projects, 327 North Aberdeen.