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by Marlena Donohue

(The Remba Gallery, West Hollywood) Pam Posey inherits a timeless, encumbered tradition: landscape painting. Land and sky, terra firma and empty expanse, matter and the absence thereof are ideas so archetypal they figure in cosmologies as diverse as Genesis and Homer, science and art. We are hard wired to comprehend the notion of the land we stand on; we define ourselves, our bodies in relation to the land’s axes. Besides that, there’s a long academic tradition of landscape painting, ironically done mostly in studios, and there is the parallel renegade tradition of dilettantes running outdoors, easels in hand, capturing the picturesque countryside as the Machine Age eats it up. Add to this the post-modern derision for realist landscape art and you have the complex rhetoric Posey knows, uses and reacts to.

Posey paints peopleless, loosely worked landscapes. At a centrally placed horizon line are placed green lush marks and rich earth colors. Above these blues and grays draped in limpid light stand as clouds. The show includes thumbnail-size landscapes aping the exact look of a 35mm slide, complete with paper mount (and the too obvious irony of “viewing views of the viewed” inherent in making, discussing and marketing most realist art). The show also includes nearly four-foot canvases, each holding four or six gridded vistas neatly taped so that bands of plain, unpainted canvas separate and eccentrically relate each to its neighbor. Finally, smallish canvases hung as a series across a wall with little space between each show a sketchy landscape in the center of untreated linen.

"Back and Forth," oil
on panel, 40 x 48", 1999.

"Four Fold," oil on
panel, 40 x 48", 2000.

"Up and Down,"
oil on paper,
41 x 26", 1999

"View #50," oil on
paper, 22 x 30", 1999
The multiple image grids are the most effective. Even as we are hard wired to see these as horizon and sky, the grid format, the repetition, the transpositions of scale, the odd breaks and continuities Posey creates force you to take in the scenes at close range and en masse. Seen in this way, green bands and blue smudges become just that: paint with grain and direction, color with properties of recession and tautness, gestures with meter, motion and mood.

Our familiarity with the subject plus the trick of the brush invite you into and through the picture plane--perhaps Posey’s nod to the exhausted idea of the Renaissance window. But the formal elements of picture-making--gesture, edge, texture, axes, hue, push, pull, surface tensions, abbreviations--keep you out. As we are pulled into an illusionistic space and then held to the surface, a basic truth comes through: Posey is not in the least bit interested or engaged in recording nature. In her wide travels to city and knoll, she does not sketch from nature; she is not a bleeding heart environmentalist talking to us about the harboring beauty of preserved nature, or lamenting its loss in a techno-dense world.

In fact, Posey’s entry into landscape and what it means and does not mean are wholly conceptual. Trained in technique and theory at Bennington and the University of Massachusetts, well traveled and read, Posey began as an abstract gesture painter and found her way into landscape through a fascination with the unique language of maps: formal and narrative abstractness, line and pattern, basic axial orientations to our bodies, the suggestion of location, memory, time and place. Posey began cutting up map fragments and putting these into abstract works while living in Paris. From this she began to grid out small sectors of famous landscapes---an inch of Cole, a tiny sector of Bierstadt--finding in these abstracted fragments the same mapping ideas that intrigued her. It was a short step to the hand-painted grid landscapes on view.

There are two components to this exhibition to watch for: The imagery taken in and of itself, and the fairly complex rhetoric behind it. In the less effective works we see Posey’s handling of paint and light, her rhythmic strokes, we recognize the irony of expansive, open nature writ in slide-size, we view delicately painted, eerily surreal branches pushing out into our space to defy the flat strokes behind them. But we miss the conceptual tension that makes a fairly used up visual tradition like landscape art timely today. When the work is on track--as it is in the grid pieces--imagery and complex rhetoric are woven together in an uncontrived way. The work is interesting because what you sense is the opposite of the sublime--the sublime rendered obsolete. You get the feeling here that by art and technology, high culture and low culture, media, painting, history and over-use, we’ve been rendered inured to the Romantic concept of awe. Posey isn't necessarily lamenting this phenomenon, she seems just to be analogizing it. At their best, these tiny poetic spaces dialogue actively with us, with art history, with the tenets of modernism, with conceptualism's deconstruction of mimesis, and even the inevitable packaging of the sublime by AOL/Times-Warner.