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January 19 - February 23, 2002 at Terrence Rogers Fine Art, Santa Monica

by Judith Christensen

From the Petaluma River to urban Los Angeles, Stephanie Sanchez paints a world populated, shaped and transformed by human hands. Yet, the lack of any human figures on the canvases infuses her images with a sense of desolation. In the tradition of the landscape painter, she has frozen in time the vistas she has chosen. But for whom? Viewing her oil paintings one after another or several at a time, it's easy to imagine that the moment she captures is precisely that point at which all human activity ceased.

"Street in Fresno", oil on panel (diptych), 20 x 66", 2000.
She is meticulous in presenting certain details. In Street in Fresno (2000) she portrays an older neighborhood, evidenced by the different styles and colors of the four houses. A small, one-story, lime green stucco house sits next to a tall, two story white house with a large, inviting front porch. Next door is another two-story house, squat, with a hip roof, large windows and a porch that spans the entire front of the house.

Also distinctive are the fences--as individual as the houses themselves. At one end is a long wooden fence with vertical boards. Between the next two houses, the boards are horizontal, with a diagonal support. Then comes a fence that runs between the two houses all the way to the sidewalk--dividing the neighborhood in half, with two houses on each side. Where the fence meets the street is a tall telephone pole, cutting the canvas in half vertically. All these details suggest a plethora of human intention--partiality to colors, the need for privacy, perhaps even a pair of less-than friendly neighbors. But these meanings are implicit, subject to varied interpretation.

In the four years (1997-2001) which the exhibition covers, Sanchez lived in and produced landscapes of three places: Sonoma County, Fresno and Los Angeles. Stylistically, her leanings differ given the scene and the mood she's representing. Her picturesque, broad view landscapes, with their tall trees and distant green hills, such as Trees at the Petaluma River (1997) and Distant Landscape, Sonoma (2000) are more reminiscent of the California plein air painters. When a single building dominates the canvas, as in Sebastopol Farm (1998) or Rae's (2001), the geometric planes that make up the structure become slightly abstracted and the images take on a quality akin to that of Charles Sheeler's work. With these stylistic shifts Sanchez imparts a distinct feeling to an image.

This is evident in her depiction of two waterways, one in LA, the other in Sonoma County. In Eucalyptus Trees at the Petaluma River (1997) natural forms--the green trees, the rolling hills, the slowly moving water which reflects the riverside scene--dominate. The few buildings have been nestled into the land and are barely visible behind the bushes. Highlights illuminate the scene.

"Eucalyptus on the Petaluma River,"
oil on panel, 23 1/2" x 32 3/4", 1996.

"Sebastopol Farm,", oil on panel, 16 x 24", 1997.

"Ballona Creek", oil on panel, 14 1/2" x 32", 2001.
Even though the few buildings are in among the trees in Ballona Creek (2001), it is clearly an urban scene. And it's not just the concrete sides of the creek that tell us this. The air is hazy, not clear. The water itself has a different feel than in the Petaluma River painting. Here, it's more like a highway of water than a river--direct, like the highway that spans it. In the center of the image a bridge, represented by a line parallel to the top and bottom of the painting, seems to cut the image in two.

Like a line which separates the natural environment from that which is entirely eclipsed by human intervention, the bridge separates the top of the painting--with the sky, the distant hills and the trees--from the bottom half--the river now held hostage by bastions of concrete. In this particular image, Sanchez depicts one of the fundamental tensions of contemporary society--the encroachment of human designs on the natural environment.