Kim Salerno and Resa Blatman are artists whose interests in the graphic arts, botany, zoology, humanism, history and the environment are on full display in Landscape Remade, an exhibition of their work in Northeastern University’s Gallery 360. Running through December 5, it features digital prints, paintings and an installation that examine equilibrium and its tenuous but constant presence in nature. Assembled by the two artists and Gallery 360’s curator Bruce Ployer, the show’s 20 pieces collectively engage with both the immaterial and mechanistic sides of the world, a point the show’s wall text only suggests.
Each of Kim Salerno’s half-dozen prints in the show are constructed of digital images of Poussin landscapes, Rococo ceramics and architecture, botanical studies, anatomical drawings and photographs of insects. Through assembly and editing the artist produces works that differ from one another in their lyricism and spacial ordering. Shared are symmetry and energetic tension, which the artist fully develops in her print Asp. In it an apple hovers dead center above an Eden of repurposed landscape clips, and between guardian snakes that dissolve into textbook drawings. Christian mythology associates the apple with human free will; however Asp reaches deeper into the myth. Compositionally it provokes temptation, temptation to move incrementally closer to study its coiling eroticism, its false shadows and diminishing pixels until— lo! — the apple looms big, shiny and just inches away from one’s face.
Variations in Salerno’s landscapes range from the romanticism of Vessels 2, in which voluptuous urns rise from a woodland like an ersatz moon, to the disorientation of Misteria. In the latter repeating chandeliers and 19th-century drawings of morning glories frame an airy combination of what could be wallpaper print and bits from the Hudson River School. The print’s title is derived from a Greek word meaning rite of initiation, which for millennia has been applied to ceremonies that lead people to a primal sense of unity with the natural or supernatural world. Salerno has chosen her title well, for a background light seems to illuminate and hold together all of the work’s elements. Whether read as an underwater scene, a landscape or the view of a vaulted ceiling, the print resonates.
Salerno’s installation Purple Coneflower is a departure from her prints but also an extension of her paper, three-dimensional sculptures that in 2009 included a walk-through installation inspired by the anatomy and motion of sea creatures. In Purple Coneflower, heavy paper is cut to foliage silhouettes and assembled on a gallery wall to form a curvaceous white cloud. From a nearby projector fuchsia and black images of field flowers and zebra patterning wrap around the curved surfaces to create first a meadow that dissolves into what could be a school of tropical fish, and then diamond patterning that fades to white. This work is derived from natural observation but it takes a step further to suggest there is an essence shared by the sky, land and sea.
On the same wall hangs Resa Blatman’s painting Tangled, which further develops the concept of unity by depicting simultaneous events occurring in nature. The painting is constructed of multiple layers of PVC that have been laser cut and assembled into a three-dimensional canvas. In oil paint, glitter and beads, a splendid slice of biological order is defined. Here a thicket of tendrils, fungi and mating mice embrace a rabbit dashing through grass and above an abstract form that can be read as motion, semen or simple, indivisible joy. Through this paradise, however, Blatman weaves lethal thorns that would undo anything coming into contact with them. Erotic, poetic and aware, Tangled is an elegant meditation on life, living and inevitable mortality.
The stacked, laser-cut canvas of Tangled is a formal evolution for Blatman, who over the past few years has produced monumental paintings on traditional surfaces and on single, cut sheets of industrial materials. A constant across much of her work has been concern for the environment, particularly global warming and its constant redefining of normalcy. Clearly but with matter-of-fact restraint, Blatman expresses her concern in her painting The Fall. On a canvas at points built up to topographical thickness, a landscape of mixed reds and black fades from foreground abundance to background storm and dread hanging minutes away. This tonal environment has a simple and effective counterpoint in the image of a hummingbird hovering over a nurturing plant. Though small, it is the essential hinge of this work, introducing defiance and hope to a world that is becoming increasingly unfamiliar.
Blatman’s smaller paintings in Landscape Remade are enjoyable in their dualities and minute details. Little Sparkly 3 is a cut-edged painting in which the outlines of berries, foliage and organic abstractions frame a scene that can be read two ways. In one respect it is a teeming paradise in which spiders spin, feed and industriously tend to egg sacs containing their future generation. As much, it is a still life in the tradition of memento mori, reminder that after the peak of nature’s ripeness comes its demise. In Bird in the Thorns 2 Blatman’s subject is placed in an environment that threatens and sustains it. Studied in tone, this piece highlights the artist’s ability to render detail down to a thorn prick while sustaining a greater, overall purpose.
If there is any criticism to be made of Landscape Remade it lies in an easily remedied shortcoming of the gallery. Across from the main exhibition wall, afternoon light pours in through two windows and diminishes the artwork’s clarity, particularly Purple Coneflower. This could be eliminated with scrims. Quibble aside, the show unifies the concerns and talents of two artists into a thought-provoking whole.
Landscape Remade: Work by Resa Blatman and Kim Salerno
Northeastern University, Gallery 360
October 30 — December 5, 2012