Friday, October 13, 2017

Lita Barrie | "Pixelation Breathes Life into Landscape Painting" (on "Upside Down World" by Astrid Preston)

AUTUMN SONG, 2016, Oil on canvas, 42 x 66 inches

"Upside Down World"
October 21 - November 25, 2017
Craig Krull Gallery
Bergamot Station
2525 Michigan Avenue, Building B3
Santa Monica, California 90404

“…go to nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thoughts but how best to penetrate her meaning, and remember her instruction rejecting nothing, and scorning nothing, believing all things to be right and good, and rejoicing always in the truth.
--John Ruskin

It takes a poet to express the truth about aesthetic emotion in painting. The great 19th -century English poet-critic, John Ruskin’s trumpet call to young artists “to go humbly to nature” was based on his belief that “Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.” As an English major Astrid Preston is not afraid of emotional feeling (unlike some art school graduates paralyzed by the semiotic virus) and she can breathe new life into the painting process by intuitively looking to nature as her great teacher -- recalling Pollock’s dictum, “I am nature.”

Artists removed from nature observation can only make random marks, just as art critics removed from nature write words that cannot sing off the page, only reaching collectors who buy with their ears rather than their eyes because they have not learned how to feel the difference between paintings with no energy, which are as dead as any cadaver, unlike authentic art that composes space, light, reflections, and shadows to create aesthetic emotion. As Cezanne said, “A work of Art which did not begin in emotion is not art.”

Although Preston is a Renaissance woman she is mainly a self-taught artist. She is a longtime friend of Tom Wudl and Lita Albuquerque and has ongoing conversations about art with them. The inspiration for her landscapes came from close observation of the aesthetics of Japanese gardens and English parks. She has studied the history of landscape painting but the visual perception she developed from nature observation enabled her to understand that landscape painting is a cultural construction and even the idea of a “landscape” is a conventional way of seeing. This led Preston to ask questions about the way we frame nature, conceptualize beauty, and create binaries between the urban and rural.

She began to explore the way reflections in Japanese water gardens show a world upside down where clouds are reflected below and a breeze moving across the water fragments reflections and creates the appearance of moving images. Water provides an abstract element because the world is seen upside down in its water reflection.

OCTOBER, 2016, Oil on wood panel, 16 x 16 inches

Preston’s pixelation is a contemporary reference to the digital era. She incorporates both flat and textured pixelations in the paintings. Her textured pixelations add dimension, making the image seem more realistic. Even though the image is softer through this technique, the image often has more actual spatial depth, not just illusionistic depth. Painting is an analog process but Preston approaches it from a contemporary digital perspective in this body of work.

Paint is the lifeblood of Preston’s beautiful landscape painting. She paints the backgrounds realistically then combines abstract sections, blending colors in her signature pixelation overlay. Preston creates pixels of different sizes ranging from small to large in order “to have a conversation.”

Mother Nature is Preston’s art teacher which she relates to the paradox of the human comedy of political errors. Preston emphasizes that “politically we are living in an upside-down world because everyone assigned to a cabinet post is someone who hates and brings negativity to their subject.” She uses pixelation as a visually enticing metaphor for our current political upside down-ness.

In her contemporary take on the landscape genre, she might combine a bit of Turner or base a painting on a snapshot of St. James Park with Buckingham Palace behind to create a sense of history. But the pixelation brings life to an otherwise flat surface by creating more spatial depth and an illusion of receding space. She juxtaposes different types of depths from shallow to deep space in one picture to create more energy.

SKY WATER TREE, 2017, Oil on canvas, 60 x 42 inches

Many of the recent paintings are based on scenes from Japan with cloud details and beautiful blossom trees that are over a hundred years old. Preston says she is always “learning as I go along” by combining new elements and exploring new paintings techniques and perspectives.

Her unique palette of pink, turquoise, lime green, and lavender has a glowing light quality. She adds more texture to these beautiful colors to create a dream-like atmosphere. In some paintings I am reminded of Lord Tennyson’s poem of “The Lady of Shallot” and John William Waterhouse’s haunting painting of her fate drifting down the river. In others, I feel I am visiting a dream that is not mine, or a memory that is not mine, like bicycling in France along a canal. Some paintings are based on scenes from snapshots of travels in Japan, France, and England.

This exhibition at Craig Krull Gallery explores ways of seeing and framing nature. Preston will sometimes combine different perspectives in a single painting. Her painting might have different ways of seeing on either side of the canvas. Preston is deconstructing different constructions of nature in the history of landscape painting, photography, film, and poetry. She explores beauty as an idea we carry in our minds from past memories and then project onto scenes in nature.

Preston’s exhibition takes us on a journey in which we learn about ourselves and the culture that frames our vision of nature. But, in the end, she always returns to nature as both her great art teacher and spiritual teacher. Like a philosopher, Preston is more interested in exploring questions that expand our understanding of the world we inhabit -- and she is never satisfied by a superficial answer. In this way, she reaches for the sublime which is always unfathomable because it is out of human reach. But as an artist she thinks through feeling and invites the viewer to feel their own way through her deconstructed, pixelated, sublime landscapes.

Preston’s complex landscape paintings cut through the polemics on cultural constructions of nature and offer, instead, the enthusiasm of an artist at play sharing her experience. Her paintings become vehicles for the viewer to travel in their own minds with her. Her lifelong curiosity about nature and careful observation of the visual nuances in Southern Californian, Japanese, and English natural scenery are transformed into a dramatic play on color and scale -- resembling a zoom camera lens moving alternately between close-up focus and a distant focus. Not only is this exhibition a moving poetic statement on honoring nature and on the comedy of human politics, it is also an exploration of the art of visual perception.

LITA BARRIE is a Los Angeles-based, award-winning, international art critic and essayist. Born in New Zealand, she gained two post-graduate degrees in philosophy at Victoria University and continued post-graduate studies in journalism at Canterbury University. Her art criticism is published in art magazines, newspapers, university essay collections, and art gallery and museum artist monographs in New Zealand, Australia, and California. Her feminist intervention in the canon of women’s art is discussed in the Encyclopedia of New Zealand and an archive of her art criticism is held in the New Zealand National Library, Te Puna Matauranga Aotearoa. Website:


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Douglas Messerli | "Building Art" (on Hauser & Wirth's show "Building Material: Process and Form in Brazilian Art")

building art
by Douglas Messerli 

“Building Material: Process and Form in Brazilian Art” / Los Angeles, Hauser & Wirth, September 14-October 18, 2017. Howard Fox, Pablo Capra, and I attended this show on October 4, 2017.

As part of the Getty Trust sponsored “Standard Time: LA/LA” program the Hauser and Wirth gallery in Los Angeles is showing a spectacular show on Brazilian artists titled “Building Material. Process and Form in Brazilian Art.” Along with the concrete art show, “Making Art Concrete: Works from Argentina and Brazil in the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros” now at the Getty, and the Anna Maria Maiolino show at MOCA (which I previous reviewed), Angelinos now begin the wonder at the remarkable diversity and originality of the Brazilian art world.

     The Hauser & Wirth show takes as its base works of art from the brilliant Brazilian painter, photographer, and designer, Geraldo de Barros (1923-1998). Also associated with the concrete art movement, de Barros created his own images in painting, collage, and photography that featured deconstructionist modes that included works in which “the ephemeral, the fragment, the time, the discontinuous, and the action are present.”

      The works in this show include a photograms from 1949/2014, a stunningly beautiful photograph consisting of lines and blocks of space in white, gray, and black from the same period, “Fotoforma”; a untitled collage on paper from 1996-1998; a beautiful painting that pairs nicely with “Fotoforma,” also untitled, from 1979; a untitled work of plastic laminate on wood with off-centered red, blue, and yellow, rectangles, each presented in slightly different angles, which creates a strange sense of dislocation and perspective; and two rectangular floating collages,

From 1980 both titled “Estudos.” Other stunning photograms and silver gelatin prints on fiber paper include city landscapes (“Untitled [Granada, Spain]”), and combines of modernist chairs (de Barros founded the furniture production co-op called UNILABOR), in “Unilabor Chair (Sâo Paulo])” from 1954/2014.

      Together these are some of strongest works of the show, and represent the heart of this small show. But what the curators describe as “echoes” are often equally strong works by later, younger artists such as Celso Renato, whose untitled acrylics on wood are stunning abstractions; Paulo Monteiro, who works with industrial materials such as iron, aluminum, cement,  stone, wood and even curtain ribbon; Ivens Machado, who works in similar materials; Nuno Ramos, whose art is created out of raw cotton, untreated canvas and calcium hydroxide; Rodrigo Cass, working in concrete and tempera on linen; Lucas Simões, also working on concrete, steel and linen; and the highly inventive Erika Verzutti, who creates works made out of papier mache, polystyrene and wax, as well as creating works, such as “Porn Star,” using concrete, stainless steel and acrylic. One of my favorite pieces of the show was Verzutti,  “Flowers,” from this year, 2017.

      In short, the title of this show says it all. These abstract artists created their abstractions using what many might describe as industrial or building materials, embracing the very substances of the architectural structures in which their works would hang. And, in that sense, it is particularly appropriate for their art to now appear, brief as it is (the show closes on October 18), in the former industrial space of Hauser & Wirth.


Los Angeles, October 11, 2017

Reprinted from Art Là-bas (October 2017).