Tracks and Traces
“Earth, Light and Stone” at the Jacobs Gallery
by Suzi Steffen
Water on sand, grass waving in fields, fragmentary views: the photographers in the Jacobs Gallery’s “Earth, Light and Stone” exhibit record the traces of time. Earth and light, air and darkness fill their work, at its best delicately balanced between recording moments and commenting on that record with their process.
|Work by Jo Warren|
|Work by William Pickerd|
The stone part of the title comes from sculptor William Pickerd’s lathe-turned alabaster pieces. Yes, the man turns stone on his lathe, and the results border on the sublime. His vases of incandescent peach/pearl color and satisfying shape attracted most of the attention at both the November and December First Friday Art Walks (the show opened the night of the November walk and was an official stop in December). Women and men lined up to ask the sculptor about his process and his secrets, and the artist turned into a creator of words as well, telling tales that kept a variety of artwalkers rapt.
Some of Pickerd’s best pieces in this show come with gorgeous lids, one (Au-Nin — Inner Peace) topped with an elegant bronze peacock by Dan Chen.
Though the remaining three artists each work in photography, none sticks to a conventional script. Scott Huette, who also teaches art classes at the UO’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts, stays closest to traditional with his “Sands of Time” series. These photos, which he said at December’s Art Walk demonstrate the effect of water over time, would be more interesting if they were smaller. Large and beautifully framed, their subject matter simply doesn’t live up to the presentation. Sand. Patterns. Pretty but boring, although Ten Thousand Things V stands out a bit from the others for its more complex pattern. His wall of scrolls looks far more attractive, partly because of its mix of the familiar (each scroll consists of precisely the same size paper) and the varied (each scroll frames a different, small photograph). Huette said that the scrolls serve only as protection for the photo, a mounting material, but they do more than that. Though each scroll can be bought separately (and I think some have been; they’re quite affordable), better would be several hung together as they are in the exhibit.
Talking with MFA-bound artist friends while I was studying art history, I learned that many visual artists loathe writing artist’s statements. They’re expected to verbalize, to encapsulate, an experience that eludes left-brain analysis. So they come up with things like “psychogeographic drifting,” photographer Anne C. Godfrey’s explanation for her series of works that attempt to capture the experience of a landscape.
These “Drifting” works can be printed in smaller or larger forms since they’re digitally manipulated, but the larger they are, the more successful; they’re each a series of black and white photographs seamlessly blending into one another, overlapping, becoming collages of the experience. Because they’re meant to serve as memories, as evocative portraits of emotion in each landscape, color would only distract from their dreamtime qualities (Godfrey said something similar at the Art Walk). Chicago Botanical Garden, for instance, makes strange the familiar beauties of a color-filled space by featuring angles, roofs, light patterns, stairs, a lonely vista of bubbling fountains.
But for evoking memories and emotions, the best in show must go to photographer Jo Warren. Her tiny prints of local landscapes, hand-colored and gorgeously mounted with worn-out camera parts interacting with each print, resemble the watercolors in Beatrix Potter books but also elicit recognition of modernity with their mechanical bits.
This half-Romantic melancholy infuses Willamette Valley Strawberry Fields, Late July — Mother and Child, a small piece that looks like it could be a minute reflection of and companion to monumental Millet or Courbet works. Maybe the work comments on migrant laborers? But looking more closely, recognition dawns: The mother wears contemporary clothing, the kid sports a hoodie; other people walk in clumps — it’s a U-Pick field.
In Warren’s Into the Woods, a triple exposure (each colored differently) of a Hobbit-like road with trees arcing over the path, she plays a small visual joke that’s both sweetly balanced and amusing: three circles of tree and road; three circles of camera parts, diagonally placed across the prints.
Both Godfrey and Warren trouble still photographic waters by including their traces, recording their tracks and showing that in their worlds, the artist takes precedence over the documentarian, not just showing but ordering the world.
“Earth, Light and Stone” is up through Jan. 2 at the Jacobs Gallery under the Hult Center.