The Inner and Outer Landscape of Larry Gipe
William Turner Gallery, Santa monica
Through October 1, 2022
Written by Genie Davis
Recent Pictures is a simple title for complex art. Larry Gipe’s solo exhibition now at William Turner Gallery creates a dark, eerie dystopian world, dabbled with an edge of noir.
The amount of detail and grace with which Gipe embraces his urban landscapes is difficult to describe in words. Enormous canvases are packed with intense energy and crammed with detail.
In Gipe’s “Russian Drone Painting No. 3 (Damascus, 2015),” a primarily monochrome but lush oil on canvas work spreads out, mural-like, at 72” by 96.” Both ironically and precisely referencing the Industrial Revolution and the environmental disasters to which it led, Gipe uses a highly contemporary source, a screenshot of drone footage. If the artistry were less capable and fascinating, the story depicted would be grim indeed, as a giant cloud of brown dust, the aftermath of a bombing, rises over a grey and charcoal city of apartment buildings, houses, and highways. Fragile shades of lavender and green are in the background, the geography on which this nightmare has been shaped and descends. The destructive loss is tragic. The viewer feels, experiences, and explores the sense of imperilment, of doom and loss – but also revels in the artist’s depiction as it creates a surreal beauty.
While this image is one of war, it is also one of man’s war against nature, of our wanton destruction not just of cities and individual lives but of life on earth, all in order to conquer it, and to rise temporarily victorious over the ruin we cause. This is a dramatic, dazzling, amazingly detailed vision of destruction.
Equally precise but almost surreal at first glance is an image also based on drone footage, “Russian Drone Painting No. 1 (Mir Diamond Mine, Siberia).” The mine itself, as seen from above, forms a series of beautiful, terrible spirals as it digs deep into the earth, despoiling it. The pattern of the mine reminds the viewer of a perfect seashell or the spirals of a maze. Around the mine lie green fields, clusters of trees and houses, and a pink and purple, cloudy, near-sunset sky.
“Russian Drone Painting No. 5 (Pro-Democracy demonstrators on Lantau Peak, Hong Kong, 2019,)” is quieter, more elegiac, with the dark, silhouetted protestors in the foreground dwarfed by the luminous, foggy gold sunlight and the blue-grey waters and brown hills around it. The entire scene, the demonstrators and landscape alike, is dulled by the filthy pollution of the sky above it. That said, the struggle on the ground seems to represent a bit of hope: perhaps cognizant humans can fight on against the inequities leveled upon the earth.
One of the most heartbreaking works in the exhibition is “Russian Drone Painting 6 (Ferris Wheel at Pripyat, 2016),” which depicts an abandoned amusement park post-nuclear disaster. As haunting and stark as the bare black trees around it, the yellow-canopied Ferris Wheel cars sit stranded, lost to time.
Also on exhibit is work from another series by Gipe, “The Great Fog and Other London Pictures.” Here the environmental focus is London’s pea-soup toxic fog. His painting is based on photos and stills from newsreels shot during this rebuilding period after World War II, which of course wrought its own fierce destruction.
Both anguished and terrifying, Gipe’s work serves as a true wake-up call, an awareness that the destruction caused by the human species’ raw urge to subvert nature and exert control leads to an immense and incalculable loss. By reshaping the previously lionized “wonders” our uncivilized civilization has wrought, Gipe unleashes a heartfelt message in his incredibly detailed and thoughtful artistic storytelling.