Weekly Update – Nature at Fleisher Challenge 2

This week’s Weekly has my review of the Wind Fleisher Challenge 2 exhibit. Below is the copy with some pictures.

Call of the Mild
“Wind Fleisher Challenge 2” concentrates on Mother Nature’s sweeter side.

Hurricanes, tidal waves, Santa Ana winds, droughts and melting polar ice caps. Ma Nature’s on the front page every day, and she’s pissed. But what of nice, cuddly, friendly nature? Where not everything is decided by tooth and claw?

You’ll find that gentler take on the walls at the “Wind Fleisher Challenge 2” in paintings and drawings by local artists Gregory Brellochs, William Gannotta and Rebecca Saylor Sack. The show’s sumptuous depictions of trees, grass, water and the knotty strange roots of the forest floor are an almost nostalgic romp—with only a few hints of nature’s evil side to darken the mood.

Rebecca Saylor Sackâs, detail: And there was a Blooming Above, 2006, oil on canvas
Rebecca Saylor Sackâs, detail: And there was a Blooming Above, 2006, oil on canvas

Rebecca Saylor Sack makes drop-dead gorgeous paintings. The Tyler grad is a fearless painter of almost-abstract oil paintings built up through a process of addition and subtraction, with paint slathered thick, then scraped away and added anew. The works’ surfaces are interrupted by agitated accumulations of fierce daubs, confident lines and delicate blots (whose pizzazz makes the eyes quiver).

These large works—there are four in the show—fill the gallery with color, texture and light. Each work suggests familiar places. And There Was a Blooming Above—with its upswirling mass of colors and textures surrounded by heavenly shades of pale green—evokes a wildflower-filled promontory above the sea. Other pieces have the slip and flow of small streams running downhill deep in the forest, where sunlight peeks through just enough to dapple the leaves and rocks with a kiss of brightness.

These paintings broadcast their emotional connection with the world. They nod to painting’s past (JMW Turner, Jackson Pollock, Willem DeKooning) and also to Walt Whitman’s electrified, nature-and-human-loving poetry. But their roots are in the present, where beauty, romance and fashion (long pooh-poohed in the art world) are making a comeback.

William Gannotta, detail: Samskara, 2004, oil on linen

The photorealist paintings of William Gannotta, begun outside and finished in the studio, are contemporary throwbacks to Andre Derain and Camille Pissarro. Works both joyous and beautiful, Gannotta’s oil paintings present a contemporary pastoral world with perhaps more respect than it deserves. There’s comfort and spiritual uplift in these small paintings, with their focus on nature’s beauty, but the works have darker rhythms in the deep shadows and bare wintertime tree branches that force you to deal with the death within all this glory.

Gregory Brellochs, Dendrite, 2006, graphite on paper

Gregory Brellochs’ drawings on panels and paper focus on nature imagined. The atmospheric works depict roots beneath the ground and cellular structures observed through a microscope. Brellochs’ works have the quality of teeming masses yearning to be free—so much portrayed in so little space. The artist’s compositions evoke cosmic swirls or vertiginous scatters that seem to tumble toward you.

This nature is not Scientific American-certified but rather metaphorical. And to my mind Brellochs’ works are more about the human body than trees. The sense of embattlement against burgeoning microbes might be about the tomato hornworm blight, but Brellochs’ dark works mirror our even larger fears of disease and epidemics.

“Wind Fleisher Challenge 2”
Through Nov. 17. Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St. 215.922.3456.