Beyond Time and Place... and Landscape
“Beyond Time and Place” is the exhibition of paintings by Karen Stabenow and Michael Smith at Cerulean Gallery from April 25th to May 19th. “Beyond” is a very interesting word to use and seems particularly fit for these paintings. For beyond can mean “the great beyond”, and many of Karen Stabenow’s works have beautifully rendered skies. Beyond can also refer to something behind or that continues after such as “beyond those trees lies the village.” If you get my drift, it has a feeling of something that is not quite unknown or unknowable as much as screened off or illusive. Somewhat like a memory or viewing from a distance, which is a good way of approaching Michael Smith’s paintings.
The paintings of Michael Smith are very likable. Bold in color, broken into a variety of geometric shapes, they keep your eye engaged. Most of them are made of square panels in larger and smaller sizes and many of these larger and smaller panels are paired with each other creating an alternative shape to a conventional rectangle. This does several things to each of the works. First, it makes me think about puzzles. Could the littler square be moved to a different side of the bigger square? Should I exchange the littler square for another littler square I see on the wall? What happens to the configuration of the shapes and their
relationships when I do this? Second, I am reminded of maps with colors and patterns recurring in adjoining areas. With the small square addition and strong delineation of shapes, it is like a series of grids that have been folded. Which, I might add, also reminds me of a quilt. Third, the flatness of the color—nothing pushes forward or pulls back—reminds
me of floor plans to museums or other large
structures. I am led from one space to the next while being enclosed by the edges. In many ways, this seems how I remember directions—by going through zones of distinctive character. Finally, the smaller square is adjoined to the larger square at a point where either the shapes are a continuation to the shapes on the larger square as in “Site Seeing” or “Hollander”. Or they are an addition to each other because of similarities in pattern as in “Stockholm”. This is not to say that one is supplemental to the other. Rather they are well-balanced, just as the color is well balanced—which is quite a feat! All this leads to a sense of amusement, like viewing a work by Paul Klee or Stuart Davis. And like them, Michael Smith is tackling the vocabulary of painting—line, shape, color, pattern—in a serious and personal way.
Karen Stabenow also paints on panel, but to different effects. Two of her panels, “Melt Ponds” and “Sea Ice” more directly connect to Michael Smith’s work because they are squares painted in a pattern that covers the whole board. But here the similarities end. There is a gradation
of color that makes one area feel like it is floating over the other and the way that the color pattern interacts with the panel’s edges make it feel as if each is a sample, a section of a larger picture. This is a stylistic quality to all of Stabenow’s work. They seem to expand past the boundaries of the picture’s edges. Part of this is caused by distinct horizontal bands that stretch from one side to the other. Some of the bands are opaque color and the brushwork flows across like water or oil or plasma. But these bands can have additional qualities—matte or shiny, solid or divided, hazy or distinct. Because most of the opaque paint, the solid and distinctly shaped paint are at the bottom of the picture and the upper portions are layered and more loosely painted, a land and sky relationship is set. And this relationship,
like the horizon, is flatlined alluding to not death as an end but “and next and next and next”, an eternal unknown. Here I am reminded of the atmospheric landscapes of Jane Wilson. But my favorite painting, “Purple Rain”, has a little of Vincent van Gogh thrown in with its expressive color and slashing knife strokes. And although the titles and the whitish barrenness of the landforms tell me that these are paintings about the Arctic, for me their real appeal is not in what they report but the way they surround me with their sterile beauty.
Now getting back to “Beyond Time and Place”… which is billed as a show of landscapes. Yet these works are beyond an expected approach to their subject. While painted on panel, which gives them a solid materiality, there is a cerebral and imaginative quality as well. For Michael Smith’s are blocks, like blocks of time, that can be fitted to the next block and another and so on. They are guides through which we can circle back or go on to another reminding me, even in their flatness, that time and space are linked. For Karen Stabenow time and space are more expansive. Austere in landscape detail, the skies invite you in and ask you to continue through while the patterned based not only gives you a stage to stand and climb over but asks whether this repetitious band will continue as it is or perhaps change as you move off the edges of the painting. In either case, the artwork of “Beyond Time and Place” are truly BEYOND.
If you missed “Beyond Time and Place” at Cerulean Gallery you can find images of the paintings of Karen Stabenow and Michael Smith on Cerulean Arts web site (www.CeruleanArts.com). But better yet, take the time to see and hear the artists speak about their artwork at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzAsgqiUm9A.