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Kathryn Arnold
Sandra Lee Gallery, San Francisco, California
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng

Kathryn Arnold, “Elusive Material,” oil on canvas, 84 x 84”.


Continuing through March 29, 2014


The San Francisco painter Kathryn Arnold, in a recent interview, cited the design philosopher Victor Papanek (who may have been one of her teachers): Humans may (I paraphrase) have a genetic predisposition for brightly lighted fields dotted with winding paths and screens of foliage that both reveal and conceal the geographic totality; “the new information is not present [in the fixed images of painting]; it is only suggested or implied.” This landscape metaphor for painting accords with Denis Dutton’s conviction that human evolution in the savannahs of the Pleistocene era informs past and current aesthetic pleasure, It’s a good way to approach Arnold’s large abstract oil paintings, colorful fields of markings that hover between abstraction and a covert representation which includes recognizable objects and indecipherable texts discernible here and there within the thickets of marks. 


These field paintings oscillate between records of time passed creating such dense interweavings (the colors of which reflect the changing colors of the day) and as subjective transcriptions of ‘heroic’ landscapes (the quotation marks are Arnold’s), like those of nineteenth-century landscapists like Bierstadt and Moran, whose epic panoramas assume an air of imperialist Manifest Destiny to contemporary eyes. Monet’s Giverny ponds come to mind as precedents; possibly, also, Lee Krasner’s impacted all-over fields. If Arnold’s bright, floral palette is reminiscent of Impressionism, her profusely patterned surfaces, cross-hatching set free from representation, ask the engaged viewer to bring into focus the layers of visual cues and create totality from parts (which Impressionism, did, also, for an audience accustomed to academic sharp focus). Arnold’s ambiguously horizonless, scaleless vistas in works like “Joker’s Paradox #1,” “Winter: Winter’s Wind,” “Fish and Dragon,” “Blue to Green,” “Skein of Memories” and “A Poet’s Forest” are unsettlingly seductive to both the post-Pleistocene scanning eye and interpretive mind.

Sandra Lee Gallery

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