Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kessler at Bienvenu Through September

Despite all the art world talk about movements, ideas and themes, sense of place has remained one of the most consistent influences on personal creativity for at least a century or so. How much of Edward Hopper’s sense of “isolation,” that art historians say permeates most his work, is really a result of his accurate rendition of the cold looking light that suffuses so much of New York state? And how much of Matisse’s “warmth” was influenced by his long stays in the sunny south of France? While painter Michael Kessler was growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, he gravitated to Andrew Wyeth’s spare Keystone-state landscapes with their stoic sense of repressed drama. But after he moved to New Mexico, his work became much more geometric and panoramic. Which is probably as it should be: if Louisiana is arguably America’s most sensual state, New Mexico is surely its most graphically stratified and abstract. Both are very surreal, but for utterly opposite reasons related to one place’s flatness and humidity contrasted with the other’s contours and aridity. From atop a New Mexico mesa you can seemingly see forever into the distance, while Louisiana, by comparison, is one big steamy mirage.

Maybe that is why so much of Kessler’s work looks geological, with a subtle interweaving of the impact of man and nature. Much of this stems from his methodology of adding and subtracting in a way that mimics the processes of sedimentation and erosion in the natural world. For instance, in CURRENT, below, a broad band of sandstone red is flanked by pale seas of gypsum white and meandering traceries of ambiguous origin, and the net effect suggests facets of man and nature built up over time in contrast to the more spontaneous gestures of artists such as Pollock or DeKooning. Related strategies appear in HIPPOID, top, and RUE, above. Like the landscapes that inspired them, Kessler’s paintings reflect an organic cycle of building up and tearing down in what amounts to a modern art equivalent of timeless natural processes recreated on a more intimate scale.
~Eric Bookhardt
Through Sept. 28
Gallery Bienvenu, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;