John West Sant
I am interested in the ground between the fields of abstraction and landscape. These two, though it might seem counterintuitive, have a long history of dialogue together. Comparisons have been made between the N octurne series by James Abbot McNeil Whistler and the later works of Mark Roth ko. Whister’s Nocturnes depict land masses set behind, and reflected in, bodies of water during the twilight and nighttime hours. Rothko’s field paintings are made up of rectangular shapes and bars of color that hover in larger fields of color and relate the shape of the canvas. Though the content perceived in both sets of the paintings is very different, a closer look shows that their actual makeup is not very different. As Whistler’s landscapes can be viewed as simple abstract field paintings in their own right, the principles of space, gravity and atmosphere that we, as viewers, read into these paintings can just as easily be applied and appreciated in Rothko’s fields. So we learn that historical context in responsible for our drastically different reading of these two separate bodies of work, but also that the evolution of painting has transcended perceived boundaries between their respective styles.
Now that painting has existed for a number of decades inside of a postmodern context, where styles and forms of content from throughout history are expected to be combined and thrown over one another, we have built in inclinations to read space and other physical properties into abstract works when it is indicated, as well as inclinations to appreciate abstraction when it appears in a painting marked as a landscape. In my work, I seek to utilize the gravity and expansiveness that the landscape medium can land to a painting while also taking liberties to follow inclinations with color use, mark making and abstract representation away from the conventional landscape. A teacher of mine once said that one has to believe in the content of a work for it to hold value. For me, this transcendent existence of the image, the state at which an image exists as more than its actual self, comes from the basic implementation of space and physical law within the flat surface of the canvas. It is after this contradiction is created that I begin to really care for the work.
See more of John’s work on his website!