||Landscapes real and imagined: Three new shows at the Torrance Art Museum
By Garrison Frost
People in the South Bay are no strangers to the differences between the landscapes we live in and the idealized landscapes we encounter in art. We embrace the perfect blue oceans in the postcards even though we know that the ones we actually swim in often are crowded and polluted. We are comfortable knowing that the beaches and horizons in our art usually leave out the tourists and the parking lots and the cigarette butts. So we should be pretty comfortable with the ideas being presented in the three new exhibits on display at the Torrance Art Museum. Each contains a different take on landscape and our experience interacting with it. The plein air paintings of William Lee Judson are classics of the genre one dreamlike landscape after another. In "Plainer," 15 artists give us a more contemporary look at the idea of landscape. And in "Road Show," watercolor artist Steve Shriver conveys are blurred interaction with what has become an essential feature of our landscape the highway.
The fact that the newly renovated Torrance Art Museum has three independent, but closely linked, exhibition spaces affords Curator Kristina Newhouse a rare opportunity to create individual shows with compelling internal themes, while at the same time interacting with other shows along an entirely different theme. So, while the exhibition of Judson paintings tells us a great deal about artist's development and experiences in California, it also provides a compelling counterpoint to the art in"Plainer" and "Road Show."
Judson, a British-born painter who immigrated to the United States in 1852, moved to Los Angeles in the last decade of the 19th Century at a time when the mountains, forests, rivers and deserts of Southern California were still pristine and relatively undeveloped. His love of the area is on the canvas of these paintings, which were loaned to the museum by the artist's great-grandson, H. Douglas Judson. Judson, who went on to head the University of Southern California art department, is one of the leaders of the Southern California plein air movement. Looking at these paintings of Laguna, Catalina and Los Angeles, the viewer is hard pressed to link these perfect, colorful settings to the same locations in his or her own experience. Clearly, time has taken a toll on these places, but Judson clearly put his own stamp on these landscapes as well. What he painted were not only the places he knew, but the Southern California in his mind's eye.
Which is about the same approach being taken by the artists in the "Plainer" show in the museum's main gallery. Although the vision is more contemporary, the artists' interpretations of the land around them are no less idealized. For example, artist Constance Mollinson accomplishes the impossible by incorporating the entirely of the world into one 5-foot by 18-foot painting. Andre Yi pulls out elements of the real in his two paintings a Los Angeles apartment building in one, and shipping containers and temporary buildings in another and placing them adrift in a gray-blue world of calligraphic swirls. Jared Pankin takes a classic icon of Southern California, the slender palm tree, and places it alone in a jagged mountain of wood shards. "Plainer" is really a great show one of those gallery experiences that one can return to several times and still find something new and great that one didn't catch before. It's entirely possible that the exhibit's appeal is partly due to the fact that everyone, the artists and audience included, interact with the same environment. It's one of the few consistent things we share. But it also means different things to different people. Understanding this, when the artist riffs on it, the audience immediately understands.
Steve Shriver's work in "Road Show" is a little different. While obviously a fan of the aesthetics of the highway, Shriver uses his eight paintings more to capture the perspective of an imagined viewer than about imposing an idealized, or even stylized, reality onto the subject matter itself. And he does a real good job of it, catching very well the blur behind the windshield, the glowing lights, the glanced objects and other vehicles. Each of these paintings depicts a night scene, when nothing is what it appears to be. While there's a definite otherworldly quality to these scenes, they also have such a precise grasp of what it's like to actually be on the road.
(Jan. 20, 2006)
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