The Nohra Haime Gallery is proud to present works by Adam Straus: The Beauty of Places Not Far From Home in the Window.
" Think of the sheer pigheaded guts it took for as serious and ambitious an artist as Adam Straus to become a landscape painter in the 1980s. A century had passed since Cézanne torqued his trees in astringent meditations on the nature of painting; decades since the Abstract Expressionists swallowed the genre whole.
"I am nature," Jackson Pollock declared in 1942, leaving room only for Fairfield Porter, intimate interpreter of the Abstract Expressionist circle, to render lawns and shadows as swaths and strokes. If it hadn't been for the art critic Clement Greenberg, blustering about how nowadays only abstraction counted, and asserting that "You can't paint figuratively," Porter once recalled, "I might have become an abstract painter." But Porter, in a spirit Adam Straus would have recognized, thought "who the hell is he to say that?"
A hand full of painters like Jane Freilicher, Jane Wilson, and Robert Dash transposed variations on Porter's domestic cadences into inlets, dunes, and country roads. Alex Katz refreshed the beholding eye through subtraction and slabs of saturated hues. Rackstraw Downes searched out unlovely afterthoughts of urban sprawl. On the West Coast, Richard Diebenkorn distilled the saturated green and blues of ocean and sky into reductive homages to Matisse. As for David Hockney- well, he did it all with élan and a virtuoso touch.
And that, with an exception or two, was pretty much where the art of landscape painting was stalled in this country where Straus took on the challenge. By then the contemporary landscape had been ceded to photography, while generations of would-be Courbet or Monet impersonators hijacked the painted scene with an embarrassment of corny third-and-fifth-hand recaps of views that once, long ago, had been rooted in authenticity.
The tradition into which Straus dared to tread in the 1980s was sorely in need of reanimation. His disruptions in the years since have unsettled received assumptions as much through dark humor and bravura painting as through offering a reassessment of what it means to paint the beauty of nature in ugly times. It is important to him that his paintings are accessible, that any visiting fireman can enter them at some level. But that is only the first, skin-deep level, and it is animated by compound subterranean layers of passionate conviction, cosmic yearning, and comedy. as the writer Vladimir Nabokov once noted, "The difference between the comic side of things and their cosmic side relies on a single sibilant" -the sound of the letter s.
Straus's eye and hand are informed by the metaphorical opportunities he finds in the ability of oil and brush on canvas, wood, or lead panel to transmit grandeur, degeneration, and absurdity of the world in which he lives. That world is both subject and source of his art-not only the natural world, not only art history, but the myriad aspects of the culture in which he lives. He's as willing to take a hint from the Cohen brothers' movie or the aftereffects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill as from hiw own lived experience, lsot in the fog or contemplating the sky over a Target store.
It didnt' take Homer for sailors to revel in the poets' "rosy-fingered dawn" or J.M. Turner for just about anyone to perceive a sunset as vaporous color, through what poets and artists see and how they see it has always affected our impressions. Then again, as Straus in his painting so pungently points out, so do the sunset the cowboy rides off into as the music swells at the end of all those movies or the video-tame-inspired jungles of Avatar.
An understanding of the "rich deposit of myths, memories and obsessions" that we project on nature, the historian Simon Schama has written, constitutes our best argument for its protection - "a way of looking, of rediscovering what we already have, but which somehow eludes our recognition and our appreciation."
...[To 19th century art historian Robert] Rosenblum, "American painters have all sought a wellspring of vital forces in nature that could created a rock-bottom truth in an era when the work of man so often seemed a force of ugliness and destruction."
BY the 1970s, this obsession with nature and place had shifted off the canvas and into the landscape itself, where Earth Artists such as James Turrell and Walter de Maria moved mountaintops or challenged the elements of lightning fields. For the viewer his experience of art in nature might approach the sublime, but nature was in extremis by then, and that wasn't the point of the exercise.
It is to Straus. He chose painting as the medium best suited for an exploration of his contradictory legacy of wonder and despair. He's after the miraculous in painting, and he likes the old ways of getting there. Its the 19th century he looks to: German Romantics like Caspar David Friederich, American Luminists like George Inees, and yes, French Impressionist like Calude Monet. He's haunted by their light, though his take on light is filtered through all that came next, particularly the Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko's enveloping luminosity and installation artist Rober Irwin's environments, which are neither paintings nor sculptures but surround-experiences in which light becomes a tangible atmoshere.
Straus manages that miracle with painting alone, and, as critic Barbara Pollack wrote, his light, like theirs, "produces mystical overtones." He appreciates that so many of those memories that myths and artists have handed down are also imbedded in the seascapes and mountaintops that have become the most prized clichés of pop culture. Straus isn't afraid to wander into cliché territory, because he knows he can wild his figts of irony, authority, and derring-do to evoke just what it was about that scene that mde it cliché fodde in the first place.
Excerpt from Adam Straus: SOS for the Sublime by Amei Wallach.
DATES: August 2, 2022
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Adam Straus. Flaunders Bay, Evening #2, 2012. Oil on canvas on wood. 24 x 24 in. (61 x 61 cm).
SEE THE WORK
Adam Straus. Big Sea Nurdle Disaster, 2018. Oil on wood. 36 x 36 in. (91.4 x 91.4 cm).