Past The City Limits: Greg Lindquist Breaks New Ground
Greg Lindquist: You are Nature at Elizabeth Harris Gallery
The soft glowing orange of Lindquist’s first wall painting in You are Nature appears to take its slanted oblong shape from a sunbeam, one which must at a particular time of day stretch across the white of one of the gallery’s pillars. Standing marker-like amid the paintings on canvas which make up the better part of the show, the wall-work signals what is for this artist a new and successful engagement with color: evident everywhere in distinctive greens, yellows, turquoises and vermillion. The wall piece is equally emblematic, however, of a pervasive restlessness that runs like a current through the exhibition. Lindquist’s works often suggest origins in a questioning, even uneasy, relationship to the conventions of painting and sometimes even a paradoxical desire to take the traditional attributes of the form somewhere outside the constraints of the canvas altogether. The resulting works feel like active meditations on the nature of the pictorial surface, played out through layered depictions of earth-sites, still-lifes, water-scapes and screens.
Accompanying the new spectrum of color in these works is a broader range of subject matter, and a more varied approach to painterly execution. Lindquist’s previous work has most often addressed the life-cycles of the urban landscape, the processes of construction and decay visible in the landmarks and anonymous buildings of our human environment. Past imagery has focused on factories in ruin, such as those found along the Brooklyn waterfront, depicted with clarity in photo-silhouette,usually from the easily-read perspective of an earth-bound passer-by.
The current exhibition takes the project past the city limits and what feels like off the ground through several outdoor scenarios and underwater vistas. What Lies Beneath (The Galaxy of Space and Time), (2012) is among the most striking works in the show. It depicts, in an almost apocalyptic color scheme (from rusts to day-glo orange) Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. While the iconic forms of the earthwork are unmistakably articulated in the midground of the painting, they are partially obscured by a tempest of brushstrokes in the foreground, and then again towards the top of the canvas in an inexplicable burst of bright – as suggestive of an atomic bomb as the sun – which is left to drip pure whiteness straight down the otherwise recessive space. Two outer asymmetrical bands running alongside the canvas suggest a view from a window, its slanting angle playing against the picture plane. The viewpoint from which this scene is drawn is otherwise uncertain. The scale and proximity to the subject is oddly ambiguous despite a striving for representational rigor and, as in the case of many paintings here, almost disembodiesthe vantage point.
Central to the strength of these works is their painterly experimentation. By this I don’t simply mean a more physical sense of the medium, but more specifically a resonant relationship built between color, application and subject matter – a rapprochement of form to content. The grayscale precision of Lindquist’s earlier work is now, for example, translated into color. This tone-by-tone chromatic amplification yields powerful imagistic presence, as with the mass of coral-yellow in Phosphorescent Cloud (2012) which seems to be actively emerging from a depth of ocean turquoise. Particularly effective is the way Lindquist constructs form through staggered layers of color, as in Meditation/ Mediation (2012), where an entity of unknown identity, perhaps an old wood piling or a geyser seen from above, is built-up from crisply-outlined modulations of the same silhouette. Time Has Fallen Asleep (2012) is a poetic image of a plant in its vertical and reverse form; its delicate branches touching, hiding and interrupting each other in glazes of yellow and purple transparency. This superimposition effect visually references stencil or silkscreen techniques. It brings to mind a step-by-step process of image making, and by extension serves as a reminder of the selective and successive properties of perception. The two paintings of actual screens which appear in the show – one of an iPhone, the other of an airplane TV monitor – figure in this context not as the odd-ones-out in a slate of landscape paintings, but as further exploration into the mediated, even pixilated, nature of so much contemporary visual experience.
A key concern for Lindquist seems to be the expression of a kind of “substance” of depicted space. Light, distance, water and atmosphere are given special care, often felt out in fine spackles which form a pigmented fog. The technique is in itself beautiful, and indicates a draftsman’s concerns with the pictorial expansiveness possible within illusionistic parameters. It can also, however, on occasion lend a sort of “faux-finish” quality to the work, like a polishing touch used to complete a painting. Coming from a skilled, thoughtful painter, this veneer-like aspect in some of the works reveals a sense of vulnerability, a lack of faith in the communicative power of the image prior to its blurring finish.
The various framing devices seen in many of the works – nearly all of which are inventive and formally successful – similarly suggest apprehension about the emotionally direct implications of the face-on picture plane. In Apnea (2012) the mythical image of a free-diver immersed in blue is offset by a darkened half-border, suggestive of a screen-shot or underwater frame. Although the finished work is evocative and resolved, the image unfettered by device might have been more to the point. The cerebral, even aloof, quality of much of Lindquist’s work is alternately distancing and intriguing, as it seems to be indicative of a skepticism of the form built-in to its own execution. It’s a crucial issue for a dedicated painter to address, and the strength and charge evident in the current show suggests very good things will come from its resolution.