Return to Articles


June 4 - 30, 2009 at Sue Greenwood Gallery, Orange County

by Daniella Walsh

Kim Cogan, "Night Owl,"
oil on canvas, 38" x 50".

Francis Livingston, "Queensboro
Bridge," oil on panel, 48" x 60".

Siddharth Parasnis, "A Town Nestled in
Snow," oil on canvas, 30" x 30".

Scott Yeskel, "Her Old Mercedes
Benz," oil on panel, 24" x 24".

Landscapes, California scene painting, urbanscapes, plein air painting--artists’ drive to immortalize their surroundings has not been diminished. They are visual creatures and want to show the world what they see; that will never change.

What keeps changing are the sights they record. Instead of unspoiled mountain views or bucolic meadows, with time and growing urbanization they train their vision on the city or some variation thereof. The current “Group Cityscape” exhibition suggests that this has become the new California scene and, while the the urban environment is rather beautiful in its own gritty manner—pockmarked as it is by graffiti and the scars of atmospherically hastened decay—it’s never just pretty.

What makes them appealing is that artists also feel free to mix it up between abstraction and representation and various points in between. There are still more or less discernible subjects, but they are open to as many interpretations as there are artists. A rose is a rose by any other name, and the same essentially holds true for a building.

Kim Cogan, a native of Korea who lives and works in San Francisco, has become fascinated with apartment buildings and office structures as they appear at night, by a single lit window or several. Shadows cast by a streetlight, a storefront left lit for the night (“Lime Light”) give an eerie atmospheric twist to what would normally be just an ordinary, somewhat down at the heels neighborhood. Cogan’s paintings convey a feeling of alienation--that of the artist and any viewer who might venture into the scene depicted in “Homeward Bound.”  Edward Hopper famously achieved similar effects, and even though Cogan has left out people, comparisons are appropriate. Essentially, we are all wandering spirits, even while traversing town on the last bus of the night (“Night Owl”).

Francis Livingston appears to have a special rapport with the city. While Cogan’s vistas are mostly monochromatic and melancholy, Livingston’s “Into Playland,” and “Queensboro Bridge” teem with life. Keeping lines and brushwork fairly loose, Livingston’s canvasses are drenched in light and, while people are sparsely represented, their upbeat presence is visible throughout. By contrast, Duke Windsor eschews the city for suburbs and small towns as they still are, or were before being choked by people and traffic. Atmospherically his paintings recall a California that was still laid back. Bereft of people, the paintings such as “Monroe and Park” and “Boundary Revisited” exude a pastoral timelessness and calm.

Siddharth Parasnis takes architecture as a starting point, turning houses into mostly brightly colored, geometric forms while still keeping them recognizable as dwellings. By skillfully layering paint, he gives the images visual depth and texture. What he does not offer is a sense of place. “I Was There Once #2,” for example focuses on the upper stories of structures that could well be found in his native India or in Los Angeles. Looking at “A Town Nestled in Snow,” one might just as easily imagine being in China as in Colorado. Within the realm of current neo-abstraction, there lies a danger of repetitiveness and empty decoration. Parasnis sidesteps such traps by  subtle indications of subject matter while leaving just enough room for imagination.

Scott Yeskel seems to incorporate elements of all the above artists--that is to say that he is stylistically all over the map. For example, “Her Old Mercedes Benz” is a monochromatic, somewhat ghostly, greenish-ochre composition that can be seen as a portrait of a shiny status symbol that has been consigned to oblivion, like a fading starlet. Then again, he creates a visual wild ride in “Inner Coastal,” an abstract impressionist painting dominated by brilliant oranges and red, with touches of blue and black that convey an ambiguous melding of water and sky, with perhaps a road in between. What matters is that this painting, along with “Bends,” “Transit Map” and “Last Bridges,” among others, departs from the lugubrious ghostliness that permeates paintings like “Taco Truck,” an over-mined and exhausted effect. While conventional wisdom holds that painters should focus on a signature style or subject matter, Yeskel thumbs his nose at consistency, and therein rests the appeal of his body of work.

Altogether these selections show that there is today a net balance of freshness and variety in such nouveau scene painting. Most of what we seen here has been produced in the studio from photographs, and then is often re-formatted by artists’ imagination or recollections. It’s the latter that will likely continue to keep us interested in the genre.