In Nature’s Grasp

March 16 - June 16, 2024 

In his 1757 work A Philosophical Enquiry, the statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke considered the concept of the Sublime, noting that certain experiences supply a kind of thrill, mixing fear and delight. Burke declared the Sublime to be the strongest human passion, powerful enough to transform the self. He noted in particular the experiences and sensations elicited by nature. Burke’s thinking challenged the rhetoric that centered human experience in religion. The idea of the Sublime became closely associated with the Romantic art movement of the 19th century.

Nature has long existed as the subject of artists’ interpretation. The 11 artists featured in In Nature’s Grasp approach nature both literally and abstractly, inviting viewers to step into their unique interpretations. Some of the artists work with landscape imagery, while others conjure ideas of nature through textures, shapes, and color, or through an aspect of their process.

Athena LaTocha, Richard Fishman, and Jai Hart each build textured, tactile, 3D works that produce wholly different experiences. For October, LaTocha researched the remains of Mount Morris near the Great Falls of Paterson, New Jersey. The Great Falls’ basaltic cliffs were created from lava flows and upheavals that occurred 190 million years ago during the break-up of the supercontinent Pangea. To recreate this terrain, LaTocha unfurls and sculpts large rolls of paper on the floor. Some of the sculptures created by Fishman appear to be formed of earth’s molten core; others display the intricate details of forests, plants, and insects whose colors and textures are both unsettling and reassuring—certainly intriguing. Hart’s energetic, chromatic shapes flow off the wall as if they contain their own gravity, playing with allusions to cliff sides and canyons and compelling the viewer to physically stroll into the vibrant world they create. 

Shawn Dulaney’s abstract paintings hint at geological topography but also play with a traditional horizon line, setting out the terms and principles of place with sweeps of color. We feel the ebb and flow of tide; the alchemy of sun, sea, and sky; the fusing of fire and water. Dulaney’s work plays well with Hart’s sculpture in its layering of brightly colored forms. It also connects with the rich, fanciful worlds conjured by Marcy Hermansader, Lily Prince, and Eileen Murphy, each of whom takes us on a journey with their drawn and painted forms, eliciting different moods as well as a sense of rhythm and the surreal. 

Prince’s work draws from New York’s Hudson Valley, the mountains and valleys of northern Italy, and the American west. Her imagery is full of twisting, undulating patterns that emanate color and light. Observations of landscape meet abstract mark-making to create an ordered chaos within the natural world. Murphy incorporates an intertwining of natural forms and organic shapes in her subtly surreal vistas, bringing to mind the deft draftsmanship of Renaissance artists. Hermansader’s works summon a feeling of interior landscapes and remembered dreams, infused with subtly spiritual vignettes and soft, glowing, otherworldly illuminations. 

Photographer Renée Greenlee and filmmaker Jeffrey Blondes both reveal worlds layered in a misty atmosphere. The familiar landscapes within their images quickly depart from reality and move into more abstract depictions of the fragility of the natural world. Greenlee’s works are from her Liminal State series, in which multiple exposures and reflections of color and light create a feeling of braided memories. Blondes’s slowly moving tableaux of unvarnished natural decay require stillness and attention to appreciate.

Ron Milewicz’s glowing landscapes, informed by the Hudson Valley, convey a hint of the supernatural. As others have written, he is enthralled by the beauty and peacefulness of the woods and works on the cusp where realism ends and imagination takes flight. His tree shapes maintain their compositional purpose while also appearing to break free in a transformation of complex textures.

Rick Harlow’s large-scale works require more than a moment to absorb, which is part of their allure. His paintings are objects of meditation, echoing his perception of nature. They change as we look at them. His technique of spattering multiple colors of paint imbues his paintings with a feeling of electric energy and connectivity. 

Each of the artists in In Nature’s Grasp holds their own unique reverence for our planet—its awesomeness, beauty, and capacity to astonish and thrill. The artists transport us to different realms of the senses. They invite us to engage with their visual and tactile explorations of a fragile living environment. They invite us to connect with the Sublime.    

— Michael Abrams and Sarah Freeman, co-curators

RELATED EVENTS

March 16, Saturday, 5 p.m. — Opening of Five New Exhibits
May 9, Thursday, 7 p.m. — Curator Tour: In Nature’s Grasp

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