Sarah Ann Weber: Scenic View
Club Pro, Los Angeles
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Through July 12th
Unapologetically beautiful but also a bit awkward; florid and verdant and teeming with floras and arboreals, rendered in a rather sickly sweet palette — the unnatural Nature of Sarah Ann Weber’s Scenic View offers dystopian idylls, in landscapes of refuge and abundance, cultivated with equal parts observation and fantasy.
In her large-scale oil paintings, scenes arise from profusions of brushstrokes, urgent, wet, heavy, dry, drag, splatter, wedge, splotch, impasto, aura. Layer upon layer of mellifluous gestures build up and expand to saturate wild atmospheric scenes of overgrown gardens and wooded hillsides. With shades of Joan Mitchell, Cecily Brown, Claude Monet, and a sort of raw deconstruction of Henri Rousseau, Weber’s special gift is for evoking and recreating the organic tumult of fecund places in the most convincing manner despite her aesthetic of near-abstraction, animated in her paintings with the chaotic spirit of actionist expressionism. The paintings don’t so much look like nature as feel like weird poems about nature, or dreams of it.
There’s a mythological, Garden of Eden, Land of the Lost quality to the scenes, almost a science-fiction sensibility, in that way of cinematic portrayals of parallel, ancient, or alien landscapes — recognizably exotic leaf and stalk shapes with topsy-turvy coloration to let you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Except, the deserts, mountains, and cultivated gardens of Southern California are populated by just those kinds of eccentric botanical lifeforms. Try as she might to let her imagination run wild, in the end, Weber need only go outside to find herself lost in just the sort of places she dreams up in her elaborate, abundant, sublimely successful compositions.
Weber collaborated with the gallery to construct a wide viewing bench in the center of the room, painted a light shade of dusty pink, and embedded with vitrines. In those, viewers discover thousands of pastel-colored flower petals — made of fondant, the hard-sugar elements used to decorate cakes — which tumble and rot like real roses. Having spotted them, the viewer’s gaze then returns to the paintings, where they notice again the cascading motif of falling petals, in the same hi-fructose color gradients, defining and veiling the pictorial space at the same time. Weber studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and her family owned a bakery in a Chicago suburb — and simple though it sounds, that particular spark of art history and autobiography makes for an emotionally articulate aspect of the Scenic View installation.
The color pencil drawings are the true revelations of an already-strong show. These quite large works on paper choreograph a deeply impossible amount of detail and are nothing short of breathtaking in their strange riots of omnivorous beauty. Though on paper these are in no way sketches or preparations for the canvases; rather they are their counterparts, fully realized unto themselves. Negative space is at a premium, but nevertheless a pastoral, picturesque balance is achieved — an underlying fractal orderliness sensed rather than seen. A heady warmth permeates the scenes of aliveness, and again as with the paintings, the undeniable naturalism is in truth optically quite unnatural. But absolutely unlike the paintings, in the drawings, her shapes are clean, crisp, precise, defined, focused. Their layers are genteel; in all the vast cosmos of finely-tuned detail not one single leaf or stem intrudes upon another. Each drawing takes about as long to make as it takes a garden to grow, and somehow the fullness of time enrichens the depth of their blossoming. But in the end, both the paintings and the drawings in their different ways transcend the confines of pictorialism entirely and end up being every inch about artistry as a conceptual, technical, artificial pursuit — being pictures that are not only of their subjects, but also about themselves.
Club Pro Hours: Wed, Sat-Sun, 12-4pm