Saturday, January 14, 2006

Black Ripple

How can a contemporary artist paint a landscape without making it ironic? To take just one of artist wrestling with this issue, consider Kate Bright, who paints mountain landscapes and images of water using acrylics and glitter, like Black Ripple (2001). In an interview on the British council site she says

The glitter, from the moment I picked it up, was screaming to be sunshine on water. It was like water in my hand. I earnestly want to capture that in a painting. In a way, it's about the impossible notion of possessing the sublime. I seem to be trying to make these contemporary landscape paintings that aren't really to do with anything that has been done in landscape painting before. Apart perhaps, from Christmas cards painted by people with their feet, which unfortunately, you can't find anymore. There is always this thing with glitter, all the references to kitsch and camp, which those Christmas cards had. But at the same time they are genuinely endearing, in an 'old lady-ish' way. There is a sweetness to them. As a kid it became the Christmas card, loosely painted with a splash of glitter on, the epitome of Christmas.

But in my work, the same language doesn't apply. This is always something I have to mention about my work - that it's not about kitsch or irony. It's completely. I want to say heartfelt, but heartfelt is still so kitsch. Perhaps they are romantic, or dare I say genuine. Irony is like saying 'look at me, I am crying, but not really. These are not real tears, I am being quite clever (fake crying) and you have to pat me on the back for that'! But the paintings are not like that at all. They try to be like beautiful mountains and lovely sunshine on water. They really are trying to be like that. I know they don't really achieve it, they are never quite what I want them to be. I have this idea in my head that I want them to be a certain way and something happens in the process so they end up different. Have I failed or not? They surprise you. Or perhaps I surprise myself. I was always thinking that my paintings might be seen as someone painting in vain. Is it impossible to capture that moment when, awe struck, you witness some natural phenomena?

It is a delicate balance and there will be different views as to whether Kate Bright succeeds in retaining visual pleasure and a connection with nature. However, as Barry Schwabsky wrote in ArtForum (Summer 2001) of one snowy landscape, its “amalgam of intricacy and generalization is surprisingly effective in creating a sense of encompassing scale. You could almost lose yourself in this place, for all your awareness of the flimsy artifice. Could it be that this painting is not about the sublime becoming kitsch but instead constitutes an effort to reclaim from kitsch the sublime that's embedded there?”

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