Once in a while I find works of art that defy my expectations of what art can be, even as the work follows a centuries-long trajectory. I am referring, of course, to painting. Even as the digital revolution has become increasingly relevant among painters, many of whom have chosen to work between the computer and the canvas, the historical presence of painting continues to persist. Werner Herzog’s recent film on early Paleolithic cave art from nearly 40,000 years ago asserts the need felt by these impassioned painters to inscribe images of animals on the surface of rock. It was their world, and it was what they knew, and their evocation of it in the course of painting these animals would transmit an aesthetic statement thousands of millennia later. This suggests that painting began essentially as a tactile sensation as much as a visual one.
On ViewCarrie Haddad Gallery
September 22 – October 30, 2011
Upon seeing “Natural History” (2011), a wall-size painting by Linda Cross at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, New York, I became further convinced of this phenomenon. Cross began constructing and painting three-dimensional images of riverbeds in the late 1980s, replicating the look of detritus as well as the indigenous moss and rocks. Over the years, these riverbed segments have developed through numerous variations, some of them included in the current exhibition in Hudson.
Several months ago, after studying the monumental rock formations embedded in the landscape around her home, she decided to shift her angle of vision from the ground to an upright perspective. Her initial studies of these walls of stone suggest a parallel relationship between the rock faults naturally found on site and those that appear to have been constructed long ago. Taking the concept of these modulations between nature and culture into her studio, Cross began working with chunks of synthetic Styrofoam insulation, carving them in a way that simulated rocks, bricks, and stones. Finally, she decided to build “Natural History” in six parts and to give the scale of her rock wall a one-to-one appearance.
There were numerous technical problems along the way, as her pâpier-maché replicas, the weight of the paint, and occasional detritus, including old tin cans mixed in with the simulated ones, needed structural support. One may recall from the film document by Bruce Conner of the famous “Rose” painting by the San Francisco painter Jay DeFeo, that similar problems were encountered when DeFeo moved the painting from her studio in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Also, Cross wanted a site-specific reference to the facing wall of the Haddad Gallery, so that viewers upon entering the space would be immediately confronted by it. The results are phenomenal, striking, and paradoxical—a remarkable tour de force that expands and extends the history of painting in relation to the history of the earth itself.