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Urbanature – Don Suggs and Karen Carson

New Representations of the Natural
A six part serial essay and online exhibition focused on the contemporary depiction of landscape in the painting, photographic and sculptural arts.

Introduction and Additional Exhibition Artists:
Urbanature, An Introduction, Merion Estes, Roland Reiss and Elizabeth Bryant, Linda Stark and Nancy Evans, Ross Rudel and Pierre PicotColeen Sterritt and Constance Mallinson –


The breadth and complexity of Don Suggs studio work was apparent in his 2007 survey exhibition entitled One Man Group Show, a showcasing of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and combinations thereof, from as early as 1969 to the present. Although generalizing Suggs’ interests is difficult, what became clear about his forty year practice was his overarching inquiry into the historical presumptions and proscribed effects of diverse media and genres—whether a landscape, a portrait, a “factual photograph”, an abstraction , or crafted object. In the paintings which range from the wildly gestural to the photorealist to the geometrically abstract, the “subject” has often been landscape, not plein air impressions, but nature as a human construction. As early as 1984 his monumental, charcoal-drawn forest landscape executed over pages of a poetry manuscript was an amalgam of literary and artistic approaches of depiction, both implicated in translating or mediating the experience of being out in nature. By the late 80’s, that investigation had extended to luscious painterly reinterpretations of painted landscape icons and a series of hyperrealist picturesque mountainscapes overlaid with crisp, minimalistic geometric configurations with coloration derived from the landscape. Simultaneously disrupting the touristic postcard view and the historically determined, pre-fab appreciation nature, as well as deflating the supposed sublimity of Modernist abstraction, the Proprietary Views challenged the history of the observed landscape and became the basis for the recent Six Point Landscapes seen here. Working from memory and detailed notational studies of actual landscapes and using an elaborate painting “machine” with mathematical precision, Suggs creates multi-hued, concentric ringed abstractions that distill in a kind of order, all the elements in the actual landscapes, from skies to geologic formations to people. Superseding the original landscape spectacles, is the condensation into an intense visual experience of spellbinding, reverberating optical effects. Metaphors for the colonization of direct natural experience by art, media, and technology–its acculturation–the paintings seem to embody not just contemporary virtual reality aspirations but the estrangement from nature tragically solidified by an entire landscape picture tradition.

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High keyed intensity and hyper- theatricality characterize the paintings of Karen Carson who has been involved with both urban and rural landscape imagery for the past twenty years. She has enlisted a range of nostalgic and kitsch references, from her Lightbox series alluding to the landscapes of commercial illuminated “animated” beer signs, to a Banner series of cityscapes painted on vinyl fabric mimicking real estate signage, followed by epic scaled panoramic firestorm paintings inspired by the fires that devastated Yellowstone Park. Borrowing from American advertising illustration, stylized Native American type motifs with which she creates elaborate borders, and clichés like fire breathing dragons and the fierce, contorted wild horses of cowboy art, Carson has used stereotypes to expose how nature is the product of fixed ideologies and a system of signifiers. Emotionally charged sublime Romantic- era landscape painting, the mythology of the American West, folk tales, indigenous American cultures, mass entertainment and consumer driven advertising have thus defined several centuries’ worth of nature perception. Because the landscape for Carson is always framed in terms of a familiar stereotype, the implication is that a pure experience of nature is impossible in media saturated culture; nature imagery is a sign of everything from macho manhood to authentic vacations to free n’ easy living. Continuing to interrogate western landscape tropes, the most recent paintings shown here depict groups of animated Arthur Murray style dancers on wide plains or beaches silhouetted, ambiguously, by dramatic firework displays or electrically charged skies. The standardized glowing Western sunset, mainstays of postcards and Arizona Highways, now seems to meet the apocalypse, possibly the sublime of global warming. With its intimation of “while Rome burns”, the wild abandon and unabated partying of these swingers is an unreserved analogy aimed at politicians and consumers who continue to fiddle until the end of time.

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Upcoming in Urbanature, works by Linda Stark and Nancy Evans

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