eye in the sky
Early publication in the Times this week, due to the holiday:
Jay Hart comes to the world of art from that of science. The Trumansburg artist comes out of a career of several decades in map-making and in the study of geomorphology (the processes by which land-forms acquire their shapes). He has long been fascinated by the beauty of the land, and that of the pictures we use to represent it.From the same issue: Wylie Schwartz's profile of local artist-writer Stephen Poleskie touches on aerial art of a rather different sort. Also check out these two paintings from his early-sixties realist period.
Recently, he has turned his skills and knowledge toward the making of more purely aesthetic images. The world seen from space is his subject. He is currently showing samples of his "terrain art" at Cornell University's Mann Library. These are large-format digital prints, many human-size or larger. They have been mounted to foam boards and are directly exposed rather than being protected by the expected glass. Each print is part of a limited edition.
Along with the differently colored Plains of Tidikelt, both Transitions and Greater Somalia were made using only color-coded elevation data. Although perhaps scientifically interesting, these two are less aesthetically rich than the others. White and violet mark the highest spots, green and tan the middle range, and reddish orange the lowlands. Hart has chosen to make bodies of water an uninflected black. This helps these images quite a bit by offsetting the sharp, punchy 3D effect of all those tiny ridges and valleys (especially in the former piece). Still the overall affect of these gradations feels cold and mechanical, ill-suited to the grandeur and intricacy of the subject matter.
Transitions depicts the Finger Lakes area. Appropriately enough, Ithaca is in the center, although visible only as an orange tail on the south end of Cayuga Lake. The southeast part of Lake Ontario silhouettes the top left corner. Pennsylvania is to the south, highlighted by what look something like loose strokes of transparent paint—the Appalachian Mountains.
Most of the pictures in the show combine the elevations with one or more satellite images, added as a translucent layer. This gives them a greater range of color and texture which is much more aesthetically compelling. The color seems more naturalistic. We can also see human traces more directly. These images feel more concrete.
An analogy can be made with painting, and with abstract painting in particular. Traditionally, the earth has been a primary source for the pigments that give paints their colors. Synthetic pigments imitate their properties. The interaction of minerals with more fluid substances generates most of the forms seen in Hart's pictures. Although intentionally manipulated by the painter's hand, painting can involve similar natural processes. A number of abstractionists have made such processes central to their work. For example, Larry Poons' poured paintings and the "abstract landscapes" of local painter Barbara Mink come to mind. Similarities of shape and texture with Hart's work are in some cases quite remarkable.
The panoramic Al Kidan, with its painterly layering of copper, turquoise and cloud-like white, is a stunning image. Its also one of the most impressive pieces of trompe-l'œil that I've seen in a while. From a few feet away, it looks as if a striated pattern of copper pigment blobs has been applied, or has accreted, on to the smooth photographic surface. But no, the blobs are actually sand dunes in the Saudi Arabian desert. They cover most of the surface, save for a bit around the right edge.Their rich variety of density and direction reflects the changing of the winds. The effect is reminiscent of some of Gerard Richter's abstract paintings. If you look closely, you can see a network of roads and other signs of human habitation beneath. The piece is roughly human-size; if it were laid on the floor, you could sleep on it. Like several other pieces in the show, the piece is unconventionally oriented. To the left is north.
In Cape Farvel, left is south. The piece shows the southern tip of Greenland, with the bottom of the eastern shoreline running across near the bottom edge. The water is blue and turquoise. The land is mostly white, except of course around the shore, where it is pale gray and brown. Punctuating the coast are many lengthy fjords, with a wild cluster toward the middle. The scene looks something like a row of burnt out trees—an interesting shift of scale and perspective.
The installation of the show could have been better thought out. Several relatively small pictures are hung well above eye-level, overlooking an area where the gallery area transitions to stacks of books. This makes it impossible to get a suitably close look at the intricate details.