Painting the Uncontainable: Introductions at G. Gibson Gallery
“Central Washington Fire Not Contained,” reads the headline of the Associated Press’s silent footage showing the plumes of gray and black that presided over entire mountains full of charred treetops in Washington State over the last week. Somewhere between the brush fires that maintain a forest’s health and the catastrophic fields of flames that consume the homes and the national parks of the western United States every summer resides the invisible line that separates controlled chaos from the uncontainable. Standing among the natural phenomena dominating the paintings of Introductions at Seattle’s G. Gibson Gallery while the fires burn across other pockets of the state, the related tensions investigated by these artists take on a new level of relevancy. — Erin Langner, Seattle contributor
The tension embedded into the dense brushstrokes that Susanna Bluhm (NAP #53, 67, 91) applies to her juicy renditions of the Yosemite landscape is the softest, subtlest kind in the show. In Yosemite Rock (Pretend Feathers & Corduroy Patch), a collection of objects that feel as if it were left behind by a child abrasively pushes against a rock painted with the utmost tenderness, the harsh red, blue and yellow of the fabricated feathers clashing against the warmth of the surrounding landscape. Identifying the feathers as “pretend” in the painting’s title, an ambiance of nostalgia tinted by a more current sense of informed perspective brings out the underlying shifts that can occur in a relationship between a person and a place over an extended period of time—and the way it becomes impossible to go back to seeing things the contained way we once did.
Other artists in Introductions play with more severe lines that walk more dangerously alongside destruction and chaos. The shattered chunks that appear throughout Blake Haygood’s (NAP #43) works at once appear as free-floating cliffs and freefalling rock fragments, their shapes cog-like and mechanical, their surfaces seamed by the blemishes and knots of the living world. Suspended like asteroids in a blank field of conflicting gravitational pulls, the varying degrees of disorder among the forms shift between each canvas’s scene. Mary Iverson’s shipping container-laced paintings inflict a similar chaos upon their landscapes, which shift between natural and manmade wonders. In these environs, the artist’s signature containers infuse the natural order of things with surreal allusions to manufacturing and consumption. Considering both artists’ works together offers little comfort in the way of resolutions. Rather, they simultaneously acknowledge and resist the lines humans try so hard to draw across their unwieldy surroundings.
In the darker, quieter works of Gail Grinnell (NAP #13, 25) and Samantha Scherer, it looks as if uncontained events have left their presence behind. In Grinnell’s Seep, the two rounded voids scar an already empty landscape, floating with the lightness of mistakes that were too easily forgotten. Likewise, Scherer’s pale watercolors are spotted with only the smallest survivors of a flood, which remains in place as a listless plane of water. In both places, the uncontained has become the unending silence and stillness that remain after an incident of immense chaos has subsided and all that remains is the tragic.
Introductions is on view at G. Gibson Gallery in Seattle, Washington through August 16 and features the work of Susanna Bluhm, Linda Davidson, Gail Grinnell, Blake Haygood, Mary Iverson and Samantha Scherer.
Erin Langner is a writer and museum professional based in Seattle, WA.