American Dreams or American Nightmares?
By Lorraine Heitzman
The suite of ominous paintings by Samantha Fields at LSH CoLab tell a story about America in decline, where promises are destroyed and scattered like confetti in a ticker tape parade. Depicting natural disasters and explosive accidents, Fields deftly turns tragedies into dramatic allegories, creating a dark portrait of our country’s damaged psyche that might be even timelier now than when the artist began this body of work in 2018.
The larger acrylic paintings in “American Dreams” are rendered predominately in the soft focus used by photo realists, but rather than indicating a photographic depth of field, the gauzy imagery conjures the pre-digital era of videos from broadcast news. The lack of specificity also fosters a dream-like atmosphere. In Another Week, a jetliner is headed in a downward trajectory with one engine on fire and smoke trailing behind. In the foreground are multitudes of balloons, the kind of balloons from a child’s birthday party or held by a circus clown. The entire image is out of focus, and the dark sky is partly pixilated. The juxtaposition of the balloons set against the impending crash is fantastical and somewhat kitschy, and signals the irony of the situation. At times, the stereotypical imagery and obvious message can undercut the emotional possibilities of her narratives, but in a painting like A Clear Sunny Day, what is left to the imagination yields greater rewards. Fields reduces the image to balloons set against an explosion of smoky clouds and detritus and allows the sharp contrast of the textures to do a lot of the work creating tension. American Dreaming is a wonderful moody and mysterious painting of a snowbound house in a wooded subdivision. Cars submerged under snow and bare trees create a stifled silence and melancholy atmosphere, exemplifying her ability to address the themes of loss with subtlety.
A Gentle Reminder, and Based on a True Story are composed of two separate images, side by side, in the manner of a diptych. The latter shows a blurry birds-eye view of a plane on fire on a tarmac; to the right is a more abstracted image of out-of-focus red circles and some luminous rectangles, indicating a phalanx of emergency vehicles at the scene of an accident. The vocabulary is familiar from the nightly news, but the painting allows more room for interpretation as the title indicates. In A Gentle Reminder, Fields juxtaposes a lone silhouette of a standing figure with an awkwardly extended arm (think injury or zombie) beside a behemoth white thundercloud framed against a stormy sky. Both canvases create narratives by implying cause and effect, introducing the element of time as opposed to a captured moment.
In addition to her larger work, the show also includes a series of small 8” X 8” paintings that depict explosions. Delicate and far more abstract than her other work, they require close inspection. Without any reference to scale or subject, they are nevertheless satisfying on their own painterly merits.
Altogether, these foreboding scenarios capture the zeitgeist of these past few months. It is not a little ironic to gaze at Fields’ disasters while wearing a mask and protected by hand sanitizer, but by contrasting doomsday scenarios with the false promises permeating our culture, Samantha Fields chronicles the nightmare of our current predicament rather than the American dream, which at the present time may be either unattainable or illusory.
Samantha Fields, American Dreams
June 14- July 11, 2020
LSH CoLab 778 North Virgil Avenue 90029 323.305.4234