Friday, April 10, 2009

Justin McAllister: Mirror-Signals

Installation view of Justin McAllister: Mirror-Signals at Josee Bienvenu
Mirror-Signals, a collection of works by Justin McAllister, brings forth a new way of seeing and dealing with the landscape. In his first solo show at Josee Bienvenu, McAllister brings together a small group of paintings ranging from small to medium sizes depicting the romantic landscape of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Justin McAllister, Fire Works, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches
It is not hard to see that McAllister's work follows in the tradition of the Hudson River School, the beautiful fiery sunsets and lush green life and expansive acres of land are all there. But his landscape does not fall into the provincial mode of plein air painting found in the the pages of Southwest Art and American Artist. There is a concept here, the human hand at work amids the wonders of nature.
Justin McAllister, Relay League-Farm, 2009, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches
By accident I came into contact with these works, and timing could not be better. A night, or two before, I had read an article on Larry Groff's blog Painting Perceptions, in which he compared the two disciplines of landscape/plein air painting. Perceptual Painting is a term I've never heard before, but it makes sense, and McAllister's group of landscapes fall under this category.
Justin McAllister, Relay League-Hudson, 2009, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches
Unlike the more traditional style of landscape painting, in which the artist represents and celebrates nature untouched by man, the modern landscape of McAllister offers a view about us, human nature, and the world we live in and how we interact with it.
Justin McAllister, Relay League-Truck, 2009, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches
The focus of the paintings are on the "controlled burns" set by the artist during the summers of 2007 and 2008. "Burning garbage (couches, La-Z-Boy chairs, piles of tree limbs and paper waste) is a common practice in rural communities" states Josee Bienvenu's press release. But are they "joyful bonfires?"
Justin McAllister, The Conjuring, 2009, oil on canvas, 34 x 46 inches
In The Conjuring, the tall blaze seems more menacing than a joyful bonfire where people might come to gather around for "bonding and exchange." The site of fire in the middle of the woods could make anyone cringe and think of the risks and outcomes they might have. Being one with nature is completely out of the picture, literally. Instead we have a visual of man's capability, and perhaps hunger, for destruction.
Justin McAllister, Hill Top Lights, 2009, oil on canvas, 26 x 30 inches
Could McAllister's paintings be a subtle hint of our sense of ownership of earth, and how this way of thinking has landed us at this crucial moment when being green is a matter of life and death? Are we looking at ourselves through a painted mirror and taking the hints, the signals? I'm not sure what McAllister's true concept is, and if it has any dark undertones, but one thing that is apparent is that nature is still being celebrated. By pushing pigment and oil over a few pieces of linen canvas, the artist captures beautiful moments of light during summer days.
Justin McAllister, Relay League-Adirondacks, 2009, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 inches
Mirror-Signals runs through May 9, 2009 at Josee Bienvenu, 529 West 20th Street, NYC 10011.

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