Nature preserved

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Two wildly different approaches to nature and landscape can be seen simultaneously this week at Locks Gallery, one approach from local painter Diane Burko and one from New York artist Alyson Shotz.

Burko has long been photographing pristine nature from the air and then returning to her studio to paint. Other aerial-view locales she has painted over her long career include the Grand Canyon, Hawaii and Pennsylvania waterways. On her down-to-earth side, she’s painted landscapes from the Wissahickon (see the frieze at the Marriott Hotel on Market Street for this) to Giverny (image top, “Godafoss 5”, and right, “Aldeyjarfoss #1”).

Her most recent bird’s eye views are of Iceland, and the end results, renditions of water, rock and land, are direct descendents of Frederic Church (image left, Church’s “Scene on Catskill Creek”) and the sublime tradition of landscape painting. The only hint that all is not sublime are the stubborn rocky outcroppings that suggest, at least to me, look-at-me-I’m-here intrusions in a world of gloriously painted water. My penchant for symbols sees the water and the greenery as nature, the rocks as humans or the artist.

That these paintings are being made simultaneously with the work of Shotz is the shock.

Shotz’s paintings are also swimmy, but the landscape as we know it is suggested by painty, computer-distorted psychedelic swirls and cartoony plant reproductive organs suspended in resin. These images are as much drawn as painted, and their materiality is not so much about the brush stroke as about the layers, some drawn, some painted, some printed, suspended in the pool of resin. (Alas the shadows and depth do not show in the photos). (Image, “Cross Section”).

Shotz, by the way, is a 1987 RISD grad with an MFA from the University of Washington, and she has shown from coast to coast. She works in a number of media, and at Locks is also showing rubbery sculptures of cartoony plants on life-support systems (check out the IV tubing and yellowing leaves), expressing concerned with human intervention with natural, genetic processes (image left, “Still Life”).

While I loved looking at this ultra-hip work, its layers, its references to Georgia O’Keefe and Loony Tunes(the flying drops of water, the animated forms, the Olive Oyl plant life) and psychodelia, I couldn’t help but reflect on how screwy–and yet appropriate–it was for someone concerned about bioengineering and mutations in the gene code to be working with resin. Oh horrors!

Burko’s Eden will survive for who knows how long (humanity is bound to expand to even the most inhospitable of regions). Shotz is looking at Eden once it has been messed with. But they both express something quite similar–an acknowledgment of a threat, and an awe of nature.

Try to get to Locks before Burko comes down at the end of the week so you can see both these artists simultaneously. The pairing is definitely food for thought on whither landscape painting.

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