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Urbanature – Linda Stark and Nancy Evans

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,Don Suggs and Karen Carson, Ross Rudel and Pierre Picot, Coleen Sterritt and Constance Mallinson –

LINDA STARK

Large urban parks are where most city dwellers go to “experience nature”, but Linda Stark’s series of Black Widow paintings inspired by the presence of black widows around her urban studio, reveal a more intimate, near erotic, encounter with the natural world. The spider’s trademark red hourglass shape has been enlarged, centrally placed, and rendered in red paint as though embossed, then surrounded with a textured skin-like black background. The shape has multiple references, she explains, “ from a shapely woman in a red dress to the ancient pagan symbol of balance and the equinox” but an identification of the feminine with nature is axiomatic. Stark’s painting method is laborious, as she drips, builds up and layers paint incrementally over an extended time, very much like natural geological processes. That simulation of natural processes using paint and the tiny flora and fauna collected from her immediate vicinity was the impetus for her Amber Rotations. The resinous varnishes in painting mediums seemed much like the tree sap that when fossilized, creates amber. Mixing various hued oil paints with medium, pouring layer after layer while embedding tiny plant forms and insects in the layers, eventually produced a painted equivalent of actual amber. Here, thick ribbons of paint radiate from a central “nipple” created from twisting and heaping the ends of the paint strips which at the other ends, congeal into fine points extending over several edges of the canvas. A sense of the both the micro and macro cosmic prevails, with references to sunrays and celestial formations as well as a spider’s perfectly designed web for ensnaring prey. Nature as substance is fully present so that rather than mere images of nature, subject and object are mutually constitutive undermining entrenched nature/culture dualities. Recalling John Fowles’ statement  that “Art and nature are siblings”, hers is a celebration and alignment of the very human act of making objects—that which comprises a civilization—with the smallest creatures around us. Eschewing the sort of labeling, naming and scientific classification that has always determined the use potential of every being in the natural environment , discarding that deemed worthless to the human scheme, Stark recognizes the most minute forms of life in our ecosystem. Her refusal to see nature as disconnected and alienated from our existence transgresses the grand progressive narratives of modernism and advocates a more inclusive path.

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NANCY EVANS

A pronounced anthropomorphism is found in Nancy Evans diminutive fantastical bronze figures cast from assemblages of found natural objects such as twigs, leaves, seed heads, dried flowers. Evans alludes to the boundary defying enmeshment of the human with the non-human, but her art envisions reassessing and transforming our relationship to nature by recalling the spiritual and cultural connections to nature of non-western religious and folk art. The intimate scale and finely executed details of her plant materials she molds from are in full evidence: “soft” shapes fold and flop, curve, collapse, and intertwine as they would naturally. Doll-like, totemic, they are loosely based on iconic goddess figures and are as reminiscent of fertility figures and ancient ritualistic pieces as they are of modernist organic abstractionists and postmodernists like Nancy Graves. Metaphorical of transplanting ideas and philosophies, the plants she uses for her molds come from her semi-tropical Venice neighborhood and suggest the way non-natives are nomadic and have settled into the area. Evans is convinced that “we are in a disintegrating culture where the specificity of the sign is manipulated and obscured” resulting in her desire to “find the archaic in her work and to explore the kind of residual psychic content of preverbal experiences to which Freud ascribes the religious or spiritual feeling of merging or oneness with the universe.” Tapping into our collective past when handmade objects were used purposefully, the sculptures equally apprehend our contemporary need to re-imagine nature, to be re-enchanted in ways that our mass commodity culture dismisses. In pieces like Tar Baby, a phallic pod with tiny arms, legs, and a face poised on a stylized flower, it is as much an evocation of the sacred lingum as it is a reminder of the ubiquitous use of animals in American folk tales or the existential ruminating caterpillar in Alice and Wonderland. Resolutely untechnological, anti-utopian and imaginative, Evans refers to a time when human made objects expressed a synergy with the natural world, and attempted to enact a relationship with it, recovering as Simon Schama describes “the veins of myth and memory that lie beneath the surface.”

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Upcoming in Urbanature, works by Ross Rudel and Pierre Picot

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