Riverwaters: New Works
reviewed by DeWitt Cheng
I like making paintings that delight all the senses but enter the heart through the eyes and mind. I consider them visceral because they capture the movement, energy, and expression that went into them during creation. They are like still symphonies of color and texture lending themselves through imagery to that which inspired them.
Landscape painting, we tend to assume, has existed, like the natural world, ab aeterno, since the dawn of time. It is also, we sniff, now beneath serious consideration, mere sentimental kitsch deserving of Komar & Melamid's parody paintings with their unsophisticated poll-driven motifs: deer, waterfall, rainbow, and George Washington.
We do the theme an injustice, of course, by placing too much credence in fashionableness. Landscape has a rich and fascinating history in Western art. At its worst it functions as imaginary picnic grounds for stay-at-home connoisseurs, the equivalent of a virtual walled garden. At its best, however, it has been linked with other ideas: the theater of Christian redemption in Renaissance and Baroque painting, God's immanence in nature in the Romantics, the beauty of fact and observation in Eakins and Impressionism, the imperial majesty of the wilderness in Bierstadt, the poetry of light in Inness and Heade, and the pursuit of spiritual realms and transcendence in various forms of modernism. That landscape has fallen so far in our esteem reveals some unpleasant truths about our techno-capitalist society.
It is, then, a delight to spend time amid Christo Braun's lyrical and meditative "Riverwater" paintings. Cultural artifacts they may be, but these visual tone poems sumptuously capture the slowed-down, eye-widening experience of nature that we have largely abandoned. They preserve "the emotional image [of the experience of nature], ... the natural energy that inspired a sense of aesthetic awe and beauty I felt in the field."
These are not mere depictions; however, they do not invite the picnicker to step in, onto the lawn, but they do invite the viewer to soar on the wings of imagination. Painterly distillations of remembered perception and emotion, they operate as metaphors for nature's operations: they breathe and flow. The viewer imagines making long, sweeping brushstrokes like surf sweeping over a beach, or looks through layers of transparent resin glazing and imagines dawdling in the noonday tropical sun, the view refreshed by wind and water. The crash and pulse of the waves, the slow fade of color in the evening sky, and the slow respiration of nature are not so much depicted here as enacted or performed by the painter and decoded or recapitulated by the attentive viewer.Pollock said that when he was painting he was nature. Art can remind us that we all are biological beings--when we log off and slow down and pay attention. The visionary painter Albert Pinkham Ryder asked, "What avails a storm cloud accurate in form and color if the storm is not therein?" Nature lies within these nearly abstract paintings--and awaits.
-- DeWitt Cheng
Riverwaters: New Works
San Francisco Art Magazine © 2007, 2008