by Ko Smith
Working with a restricted palette and an oft-used term of phrase, the “American Landscape” paintings respond to a tendency to present, view, and discuss issues through a “Black and White” lens–often hyperbolic and unnuanced–and demonstrate the subtleties present even in such polarized discussions by pushing, pulling, pouring, and sometimes tearing at the paint surface.
I’ve restricted my pallet to different types of black and white paint, solely painting with Williamsburg Oils, an American fine oil paint manufacturer. In the paintings, I refrain from rendering a realistic landscape in order to emphasize the influence one’s perspective and opinions have on how they view their physical environment. It also draws from the use of the word in the allegorical sense, i.e. a “political landscape”, “financial landscape” or “emotional landscape”, and how these landscapes–purely products of human mental structures, influence how we view and experience the world we inhabit.
The root of the “Partisan” paintings lie in the tension of a very personal, internal moment in which we as individuals are presented with the opportunity to expand our worldview, mental emotional, and empathetic boundaries. They are portraits rendered monochromatically–some red, some blue–as a signifier of a polarized national consciousness. Elements of the portraits are distorted, in recognition of the fear that can arise at the borders of one’s emotional boundaries. In exposing these fragile points, as if they were written on one’s face, these paintings recognize that the empathetic expansion necessary to live with each other, while not always easy, is always a task worthy of engaging in.
These two bodies of work both emphasize the potential beauty, tension, and discomfort in the nuanced areas between polarized vantage points. “American Landscape” and Partisan” invite the viewer to participate in this potential; to recognize the beauty to which they have been blind, to boldly examine the tensions present in both the Self and the national discourse, to ultimately grow in confrontation of this discomfort.
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