Cole Case’s Poetic Vision at Chimento Contemporary
By Genie Davis
Through March 25th
At Chimento Contemporary through March 25th, Cole Case’s “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt” is a beautiful, poetic exhibition of luminous but empty landscapes, Los Angeles scenes that seem to come out of a dream but are created from meticulous observation.
While the exhibition title comes from a drawing in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, everything else about Case’s work is entirely original. Here are otherworldly landscapes that are nonetheless instantly recognizable as Los Angeles scenes, eight paintings and multiple works on paper depicting beaches, flight paths, and harbors. Although these works have a visual alchemy that speaks of magic and mystery, Case says that they are the result of “direct observational drawings on site that are very consciously and deliberately chosen. Duration is very important too. It is why there are so many planes and birds at once and why the light logic is sometimes self-contradictory. Photography can only capture an instant, but a live drawing can capture the one to two hour period that I am working in its entirety, if I so choose. And I of course edit at will while I am drawing, selecting or rejecting various elements within my point of view.”
In short, his work is about “focused consciousness and not the subconscious,” which honestly makes the evocative works all the more wondrous, as they are both rigorously realistic and edged with the surreal.
We see mysterious elements of human existence, airplanes, ship, dock, palm tree – but few human beings. The machines may have taken over, except for the observer and his brush. Or it may simply be that they are aspects of the landscapes which Case sees and recreates.
The artist says what he most wants viewers to experience from this exhibition is his unique and extremely personal approach to landscape painting. “It is very rooted in the art historical traditions of the genre, and dealing with the most contemporary of landscapes: the purely manmade kind that are influenced by — but completely divorced from — any notion of the sublime.”
The locations Case selects have a deeply personal connection and resonance for the artist. “My earliest exhibited paintings were paintings made from personal memories with as few extant visual cues as possible. Over time, they have become paintings more about memories than being paintings from memories.”
Citing Edouard Manet as a role model, Case says he is “trying to address the experience of our shared contemporary world through a very personal lens.” His works have evolved to be more about the immediate present than the past.
His technique in creating these works is as unique as his finished landscapes. Each begin as the smaller drawings observed hanging on the right hand wall when entering Chimento.
“The drawings are all pen on paper made from live direct observation and engagement at each site. I cannot overstate how important this aspect of my work is: I have to have been there, working directly from life and strictly by hand.”
Case does take photographs to use for color reference, but for him, these photographic depictions function similarly to the quick oil or pastel nature studies created by Constable, Turner and the Hudson River School painters to use once they returned to their studios to create larger oil paintings.
“I would say my technique, if there is one, is more like a Hudson River School Frederick Church/Thomas Cole/Asher Durand approach to landscape than the Impressionist plein air painting approach such as Claude Monet’s or David Hockney’s,” Case asserts. “But my actual real time durational physical presence and the utter simplicity of my tools and materials and direct engagement with the landscape are the cornerstones of my process.”
Knowing nothing about the artist’s work when first encountered, the viewer can intuit his almost tactile inhabiting of the landscapes while gazing at scenes that are very real and yet beyond real, as in “Incoming LAX Traffic” which features airplanes heading toward the viewer as if in military formation. In “Space Shuttle Fuel Tank ET 94 in Marina Del Rey,” the fuel tank dominates the scene, while tiny kayakers seem to be less potent than the machine. We are in a very recognizable place, but one which is slightly skewed, molded by the artist into something strange and ecstatic that passes beyond what he’s seen and into something that he has shaped.