On Exhibit: Landscapes as you’ve never seen them, on view at Union

“Feeding Sugar to the Stump” by Beatrice Modisett. 
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“Feeding Sugar to the Stump” by Beatrice Modisett. 

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The natural is made alien in “Satellite and Sediment,” on view at the Crowell and West Galleries at Union College.

It brings together works from five contemporary artists who are in some way responding to the land, though the show offers far more than traditional landscapes. Each artist pulls from their varying environments — some quite literally using pigments from the earth — and responds in ways that are cleverly indirect, evoking the landscape in sometimes subtle ways.

Take Cynthia Lin’s work for example. The Brooklyn-based artist creates conceptual terrains that are rooted in reality by reinterpreting topographical details from NASA satellite imagery and magnified sections of skin. Combining printmaking, scratch-board, solvent transfers and oil on mylar, her large-scale works are meant to be marveled at and viewed from multiple angles.

One standout piece features a burst of brilliant reds and oranges, snaking down the composition and colliding with vibrant hues of blue and green. Called “NEur CloudsRed,” it echoes weather radar and is alarming and alluring all at once. The piece is impressively layered with acrylic and silkscreen patterns, with dark lines that seem to delineate unfamiliar political boundaries.

It’s on view just outside the gallery and serves as an ideal jumping-off point for the rest of the exhibit, which is curated by Laini Nemett, associate professor of drawing and painting at the college.

Stepping into the bright space, viewers are met with a different kind of intricate topography. Artist Sara Schneckloth takes viewers to New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, using pigment made from natural minerals found there to create engaging mixed-media drawings. They reference resource extraction and geological formations.

The pigments run the gamut from rusty reds to rich browns and they seem to bleed out beyond the dark lines that attempt to divide them, perhaps referencing the blurred boundaries between public, private and tribal lands.

Elsewhere in the show, extreme weather takes center stage. A sweeping charcoal drawing by Beatrice Modisett stretches along one of the gallery walls. Waves, wind and torrential rain swirl around the piece. The natural elements are juxtaposed with towering structures seen in the distance. Called “Feeding Sugar to the Stump,” it references both destruction and creation.

Of note too is Modisett’s method. The Queens-based artist, who also works upstate, created the charcoal and the wood ash frames featured with some of her other drawings in the exhibit from a fire pit deep in the woods of Summit.

“I am interested in these seemingly destroyed charred remains serving as the impetus for new ideas, images and objects,” Modisett wrote in a statement.

In similarly dark hues, artist Athena LaTocha captures the landscape around her in a visceral way. Using materials from the environment, including earth, plants and demolition sediment, LaTocha scratches and cuts at inks mixed with water and industrial solvents.

One site-specific work, called “Thirteen Days,” is ragged, with visible cracks running down one edge. The paper, which stretches across several feet, has also stiffened unevenly with the treatments, with some sections raised from the wall. While there’s what looks like a skyline in the distance, the work is abstract, with bursts of black and red inks.

Nearby is a display of accordion books filled with drawings and writing that reflect multiple climates and locations, bringing together a peaceful copse with fields stretching out behind it with mountainous views.

In a style that’s both loose and meditative, the artist, Barry Nemett, often begins and ends the accordion books in different locations, with scenes stretching from Italy or Vietnam all the way to Baltimore or Schenectady. The resulting pieces aren’t representative of one particular landscape but are convincing amalgamations of several.

“Satellite and Sediment” is a sprawling show that stays with the viewer long after they leave the gallery. It’ll be up through March 10. There will be a reception from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Thursday, with gallery talks from the artists starting at 5 p.m. The Crowell and West Galleries are located in Union College’s Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts. For more information visit union.edu/visual-arts.

Categories: Art, Life and Arts

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