Sam Falls’ “California Flora (National Forest Condensation Wall)” installation covers the walls adjoining the museum’s expansive lobby staircase. The imagery is so lifelike that we feel ensconced within a lush forest. But look closely, the wall is composed of various two-dimensional photo-based panels depicting the richly colored flora that can be seen in our protected national forests. In fact, the artist created this work by traveling through and documenting — in a variety of ways — all of California’s National Forests. The resulting images of leaves, bushes, flowers and trees, including Ponderosa pine, valley oak, California buckwheat, deer fern, redwood sorrel and wild bluegrass in greens, mauves, reds and blues, bring a fantasy of nature’s most bucolic landscapes to the museum wall.
Photograms or camera-less photography, using photographic paper, vegetation or other objects and (sometimes natural) light, is cited as an element in the finished panels. Falls explains that he covers large canvases with local vegetation, sprinkles them with a variety of dry pigments, and leaves them outside overnight to absorb rain and dew. The ultimate and surprising results of this “Land Art” are vibrantly colored images of silhouettes of the original flora, enhanced by the earthy colors of the pigments. On a conceptual level, this installation, representing the panoply of vegetation in forests located from the ocean to the deserts, speaks to the magnificence and fragility of California’s landscapes and ecosystems