Monday, September 15, 2014

The Landscape Illusion

Discovery Park, Seattle, Washington. February, 2014. Jamie Bollenbach, All rights reserved.
One of my dad's standard jokes was to gaze upon some impossibly impressive Alaskan vista, like a smoke reddened sky blazing behind a white conical volcano reflected in a golden ocean, and go:

"That looks like a terrible painting."

Indeed it does. I am suspicious of landscapes. The unoccupied landscape is now so ordinary an artistic subject that a lot of people assume that what artists do is make landscapes.

Pure landscapes before recent times- in the sense of the land as subject itself unoccupied by human beings - are comparatively rare. Here is a spectacular Brueghel (Hunters in the Snow), a very quick sketch by Rembrandt (View of Diemen), a Song Dynasty masterpiece by Xia Gui, and below, the Venus and Adonis by Veronese in Seattle, a painting that is, in my view, nearly perfect in color. (And here is ANOTHER reminder to GO SEE THE ACTUAL PAINTING.)

Notice this: Nature does not exist separate from human beings. There is almost always evidence: people, buildings, places, scenes. We are in Nature.

The modern landscape with its Romantic idea of purity is new, a reaction I think to the rise of the Industrial Age. In these, we are out of Nature, watching it from afar, or it is a backdrop to the narrow interest in family members, or a snap-it record, a substitute for even being where you are. Casual painting especially is besotted with nature as a heavenly place remote from us.

The problem with heaven is that you are under no obligation to take care of it.

There is a rise of a new landscape, less humbled by it, more transformed and alarmed. Just in Seattle, my friend Mary Iverson turns the shipping container into a rigorous visual metaphor of the commodification of Nature.  Another friend and fellow University of Washington grad Cable Griffith creates disarmingly charming paintings of the natural world implied and negotiated by video games.  My own work often contains the shapes and forms and spaces of nature, but with its specific contents, trees, water, grass, mountains, etc, all pushed aside by the ghosts of the forms of the remembered human being.

Almost everywhere artists look now, Nature has been touched, reshaped, gardened, poisoned, idolized, dominated, yet our most common portrayal of nature is as a kind of unreachable Eden.  But the old work almost always portrayed us as inside Nature, and it asked us to perceive our relationship to it, even if it was Veronese's idyllic god-world.  An artist who paints Nature as untouched now is hiding both the modern truth of what is happening to the world, and the old truth that we exist within it.

An uncritical, typically glorious earthporn photo can be uplifting, but it can also hide the truth. If you ask the Inupiaq elders in northern Alaska, the very color of the sky has changed.  The blue sky, the golden sun, the pretty and perfect structures in my own black and white snaps. It's a half truth, and we need much more.

So-  before anything else, before concept, before expression, before style, before technique, see. See fully, see comprehensively, see what it is that actually surrounds you. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New! Advanced Projects Life Class at A&C in the U District 9-30, 5PM

Egon Schiele,  Reclining Woman 1917
New Class! 

Long-Pose Figure Drawing & Painting Advanced Projects 
Starts Sept 30 Tuesdays 5PM

Going beyond my regular weekly life drawing class, The Advanced Projects Figure Drawing & Painting class will help artists who want to reach the next level of development in their figurative artwork, with long-term single poses held by our experienced models, and a personalized program for reaching your own artistic goals.

With Seattle painter Jamie Bollenbach, MFA, working with you through individual project assignments and constructive, specific critiques, we will incorporate color, experiments in composition, texture, line and technique into your approach to the human figure.

With multiple classes, we can attempt more ambitious art and work to develop your own style of artistic investigation that will give your work core skills, yes, but much more, to help shape your unique artistic voice, incorporating design, expression, and concept into your art. 

All traditional 2-D media welcome. $170, plus an $8 per person/ session modeling fee Class minimum: 5, Maximum: 14. Limited Income/ College discount price: $100. Please be sure to write with any questions about the class!

To register and secure a place, send Jamie an email at, with your intent to join the class; student placement will be made in the order received.

"You are an inspiring instructor, a combination of philosopher, social critic, humble practitioner and all around exciting presence. I find your classes provide me with support, encouragement, exposure to working artists, in short, a thriving environment.  Although I studied with the likes of Norman Lundin, Jacob Lawrence and others with big names, it takes something more, and you have that something." - Student note to Jamie, 2014