Monday, July 13, 2009

Landscape art is not a zzzzzzzzz

Landscape remains one of the great subjects of art even though it’s no longer thought relevant to paint a scene of what’s seen. The artist for whom landscape is inspiration has to actively enter the dialogue with other forms of contemporary art than painting. Hamish Fulton takes long walks. Christo and Jeanne Claude stage installations in significant places like Central Park and Berlin. Environmental interventions (eco-ventions)are the preferred way of calling attention to the abuses contributing to global warming.

Yet it remains true that for us as visual artists, the only way to give lasting expression to our feelings about the landscape is through the visual formalities of drawing and painting. So now instead of painting scenes, we paint paintings based on what we’ve done. Process is product. Nancy Manter is a case in point. Her process is to make marks not on paper or on canvas but in the landscape itself, and then to photograph the marks. Andy Goldsworthy has done this for many years, but Manter does not stop at photo-documentation. She uses the photographs as a matrix for some very sophisticated imagery developed with distemper and collage on dibond aluminum panels. Ice, mud and water are the canvases in which she incises gestural abstractions; the collaged and painted extrapolations appear to be as un-programmed as the natural world itself, but the visual choices she has made are calculated to make us notice that world afresh.

Out on Moody Mountain this weekend I was momentarily mesmerized by the sough of the wind in the trees. It had some of the effect of looking at a Manter painting, with the difference that wind is up there in the air, whereas a Manter painting is like feeling the rush and slip of water over mud.

The exhibition remains on view at Waterfall Arts in Belfast through August 28.

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