Nearly Falling features seven geographically specific oil paintings interspersed with six gouache and watercolors on paper.
Each of these paintings depicts a place in the United States or Canada that I’ve visited in the past year. The locations range from forgotten mining settlements in Colorado to the universally recognizable tourist spectacle of Niagara Falls. They portray seemingly pastoral settings that are strongly affected by human presence. Midnight (Aliso Canyon, CA) shows a nature reserve that is surrounded on all sides by the suburban sprawl of Orange County, California. Despite its unspoiled appearance, a gated housing community lies a few hundred yards away. In Tabitha’s Beach-brace (Sherkston, ON) circular tire tracks are the only trace of the cars that drive along the coastline, pushing sand down off the dunes and exposing gravel along the eroding beach on the northern shore of Lake Erie.
Superimposed over these scenes are abstract forms that cover, qualify, and amend one’s perception of the landscape. The abstract forms in each painting are my own monuments to the places that I paint and reflect feelings of unease, uncertainty, and precariousness about the North American landscape. In one sense these abstract forms are proposals for sculptures that I imagine being placed in the environment.
Something that interests me about the American landscape, as depicted by the Hudson River School, is its capacity to suggest tranquility and doom, beginning and end, construction and destruction. Nineteenth century American artists like Durand, Church, and Cole present land simultaneously below sun and storm clouds, virgin and unspoiled yet in ruins. The landscape is shown to be pastoral yet full of potential for human exploitation. I see the tense relationship between landscape and abstraction in my paintings analogously to these conflicts. I think of my own abstract painting as if it is `pure’ geometric abstraction subjected to gravity and deterioration. Making it, I feel more of a kinship to the sculptors Anthony Caro and Mark Di Suvero than I do to Mondrian or Malevich. In fact, four paintings in the show include images of sculptures that I made along a lake in the Adirondacks with found materials (Niagara Falls, Tabitha’s Beach Brace, Midnight, and Rope Swing Replacement).
The works on paper that accompany the oil paintings place abstract forms in a more ambiguous space. References to the landscape are reduced to a tree branch here and there, barely suggesting an outdoor environment. The shapes of the paper collages take their inspiration from Kenneth Noland’s irregularly shaped canvases from the 70s and 80s. – Jacob Feige