Monday, September 14, 2009

View of Mount Katahdin

I’ve been traveling around to the Bowery, Chelsea, Soho, Japan, China, Afghanistan, Brooklyn and Italy, the top of Mount Katahdin, and also Winnipeg. Not to mention a Grand Tour through Europe. As you can imagine this has meant a lot of walking. I’ve also vegged in my apartment for hours at a time, thinking only about sediments, the mechanics of plate tectonics, and wthether Neanderthals spoke as we do. It seems they did not, and that what defines us as human is the ability to express thought through complex language structures.

In the tradition of Shingon, or Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, the ineffable is beyond language and can only be expressed through mandalas, mantras, and mudras. We are brought to point of contact with other worlds through meditating on paintings and through phsyical position, and this is how I came to the foot of Mount Katahdin while standing on Manhattan ground. Sam Cady’s constructed paintings, on view at Mary Ryan, combine the precision of Hiroshige’s ukiyo-e prints with the spatial perspective of Chinese landscapes, while at the same time being firmly part of the Western landscape tradition. In the view of Mount Katahdin for instance, the shape of the canvas is an inverted trapezoid in which the rhythm of color runs from the slightly inflected dark blue of Chimney Pond at the painting’s base to the profusion of detail and light on the Knife Edge at the top. The perspective is precise, the observation of detail so uncanny that as viewer, I seemed to stand exactly at the bottom of the mountain. (You can see the painting if you follow the link below.) In another canvas that is a narrow horizontal strip of island and water, I was further down in the water, as if swimming or in a boat. A very small canvas captures the distance, the temperature and the great size of the iceberg that is its subject. To experience these landscapes as Cady has done and intends for us to do, we stand with him and with them, and the satisfaction of this communication is that as artist Cady allows us the opportunity to do equal work.

The show at Mary Ryan is up through October 17. Japanese mandalas are at the Met through November 29 in the Sackler Wing. Katahdin image courtesy of Wikepedia.

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